Gleneagles 'has not reduced infant mortality'

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Indy Politics

One child has died from poverty, conflict or disease every three seconds since the leaders of the world's richest nations met 11 months ago in Gleneagles, under pressure to make poverty history. The statistic has remained unaltered since the famous "click" commercials over a year ago, when celebrities such as Kate Moss, Kylie Minogue and Brad Pitt lined up to click their fingers every three seconds, to mark the death of another child.

The lack of progress in reducing child mortality rates is highlighted in a report on the aftermath of last year's Gleneagles G8 summit, released today by Oxfam. In addition to the 11 million children who have died in 11 months hundreds of thousands more were never born, as half a million women died in pregnancy or childbirth in the same period. Many were victims of catastrophes such as Africa's food crisis, the Asian tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake, and wars such as those in the Congo and Sudan which have made millions homeless.

The report comes in the wake of a meeting between Gordon Brown and other finance ministers from the world's richest nations in Moscow to discuss Third World poverty and debt, ahead of next month's G8 summit in St Petersburg. Officially, aid budgets worldwide will increase over the next two years, but according to Oxfam, that is because of a "spike" caused by two decisions - the cancellation of just over half of Nigeria's US$35bndebt, and of the debts Iraq's new government inherited from Saddam Hussein. The rest of the world's aid budget could fall dramatically unless the rich countries agree new aid.

Despite the grim figures published in the audit, the charity says it would be wrong to think that the decisions that came out of the Gleneagles summit, when Tony Blair put world poverty and climate change at the top of the agenda, have had no impact.

Significant developments include an announcement on 31 March by Zambia's President, Levy Mwanawasa, that basic health care can now be made available to every Zambian, free of charge. Previously, a visit to a clinic was a privilege confined to those who could afford it. The change was made possible partly by the cancellation last year of Zambia's US$5bn debt to the International Monetary Fund.

The rich nations committed themselves at Gleneagles to making treatment for HIV universal by 2010. According to the Oxfam report: "By the end of 2005, just over one million HIV-infected people in poor countries accessed treatment - a great achievement. Yet this is far from enough to get on track for the 2010 target, and still leaves six million people with no access to medicines that can keep them alive."

The Oxfam report also criticised the US and the EU, for not playing fair in the contest for international markets. "The US and EU promised they would open their markets to agriculture and industrial goods from developing countries, but have created so many loopholes they are actually offering very little," the report said.

The report also praised the organisers of the G8 summit for drawing attention to climate change, but warned: "The processes set in motion are happening nowhere near fast enough to produce the necessary reductions in greenhouse gases."

That summit was held in the context of a Live8 concert which attracted an international audience of two billion, and a Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh, in which a quarter of a million people took part. Both events were boosted by the "click" commercials which received blanket coverage at the time, but were later banned by the media regulator Ofcom because of their political content.

Oxfam's director, Barbara Stocking, said: "The debt cancellation brokered at last year's finance ministers' meeting in London is already helping to deliver essential health and education services but G8 governments must not continue to double count debt cancellation as part of their aid budget.

"True aid figures continue to be obscured because official figures still count debt-cancellation deals as new foreign aid. Four years ago, at the Monterrey Financing for Development conference, rich countries promised to stop this double counting. Despite their promise, the practice remains unchanged.

"The UK Government must use its influence to ensure that G8 countries deliver both debt cancellation and increased aid if they are to make poverty history."