Britain's 'broken pledges on aid costs poorest nations £9.5bn'

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Britain's "miserable" failure to meet its promises on international aid has cost the world's poorest nations £9.5bn in just three years, a report last night revealed.

Britain's "miserable" failure to meet its promises on international aid has cost the world's poorest nations £9.5bn in just three years, a report last night revealed.

The debt to the Third World is in contrast to the cost to the taxpayer of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has already exceeded £5bn.

Although Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has announced a sharp rise in development spending, a leading aid agency named Britain as one of the worst offenders in the industrialised world on the subject.

World Vision said its performance was a "glaring failure" that threatened to undermine other government initiatives to combat Third World poverty.

It calculated that Third World countries desperate for financial help had been denied a total of £192bn in 2000, 2001 and 2002 because Western countries had not delivered on their promises to increase overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of national income.

The United States and Japan are responsible for more than half of the shortfall, with Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom the biggest of Europe's under-spenders.

As long ago as 1970, the British Government pledged to increase its overseas budget to 0.7 per cent of gross national product. But successive administrations have failed to achieve even half that level, despite a succession of humanitarian crises and the HIV/Aids epidemic in much of Africa.

According to World Vision, Britain spent an average of 0.31 per cent on aid in 2000-2, representing a shortfall of at least £3bn each year. Its budget was £2.5bn in 2000 (underspend of £3bn), rising to £2.6bn in 2001 (underspend of £3bn) and £2.7bn in 2002 (underspend of £3.5bn).

The total shortfall of £9.5bn is the fifth highest of the countries examined by World Vision, although it is dwarfed by the underspending of almost £100bn by the United States.

Fletcher Tembo, a World Vision spokesman, said the British Government had "failed miserably" on the 0.7 per cent target and the world's poorest people had been deprived of billions of pounds.

"In many ways the British Government has taken a leadership role on fighting poverty, but its performance on overseas development aid is a glaring failure which threatens to undermine its other initiatives," he said. "Unfortunately for the poor, no interest is accrued on these debts and there is no payment plan in place. Indeed every year's shortfall is not added into an accumulated debt, as it should be, but written off ready for the donor country to start afresh."

World Vision released the figures to coincide with a report, Who's Looking After the Children, which warned that the growing shortfall in aid meant there was little chance of global targets for reducing poverty by 2015 being met.

At a recent conference of diplomats and aid organisations in London, Mr Brown warned that urgent action was needed to have any chance of hitting the Millennium Goals for halving poverty, cutting child deaths and improving education in the Third World.

In this month's three-year spending review, he announced a £2.3bn boost to spending by the Department for International Development by 2006-7 and set the Government a new aim of achieving the 0.7 per cent target by 2013.

Mr Brown has championed proposals for a new international finance facility to double aid to developing countries to $100bn a year and Tony Blair is expected to make aid a priority of Britain's presidency next year of the G8 group of industrialised nations.