Gordon Brown: We need irreversible progress in tackling world poverty

On current progress we will fail to meet the Goals in Africa not just for 10 years but for 100 years
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The Independent Online
World leaders meeting in Sea Island, in Georgia, next week will be presented with a plan for immediate action on debt relief, as we look towards 2005 for a breakthrough in tackling world poverty.

World leaders meeting in Sea Island, in Georgia, next week will be presented with a plan for immediate action on debt relief, as we look towards 2005 for a breakthrough in tackling world poverty. The year 2005 marks the 20th anniversary of Live Aid, the moment when millions of the world's richest people woke up to the plight of millions of the poorest. In 2005, our progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, illiteracy and disease in the developing world will be assessed.

And 2005 is the crunch year for the world trade talks, and the year in which Britain has a special global responsibility through our presidency of the G8 rich nations. And as faith groups and NGOs are beginning their 2005 campaigns, the Government will set out plans for a "development presidency" designed to make real and irreversible progress in tackling world poverty.

Since 2000, debt relief - then drawn upon by one country - has been extended to 27, for whom $70bn (£40bn) of relief is now earmarked. An extra $12bn of annual development aid has been pledged, after 20 years in which worldwide aid has been falling. It sounds like progress, but we have only just begun. World trade talks - vital to the incomes of the poorest countries - are stalled. And on current progress, we will fail to meet each Millennium Development Goal in Africa not just for 10 years but for 100 years.

Far from achieving primary school education for all, 120 million children will still have no schools to go to, and the target will not be met in sub-Saharan Africa until 2150. Our targets to cut infant morality by two-thirds and halve poverty by 2015 will also go unmet in sub-Saharan Africa until 2150.

The richest countries cannot continue setting targets, failing to meet them and then expecting the poorest countries to trust our word. Only comprehensive policies for economic and social development - promoting growth, fair trade and aid - will bring a lasting exit from debt and poverty. That is why, as we approach our G8 presidency, we need a new debate on how the richest countries can discharge their responsibilities to the poorest, encourage economic development and debt relief, and win the fight against illiteracy, disease and poverty.

The challenge is massive but not unprecedented. In the 1940s, under the Marshall plan, 2 per cent of America's national income was transferred to Europe, enabling Europe's reconstruction, the resumption of world trade and the prosperity of Europe and America in the post war years. Rich countries, George Marshall said, had a special responsibility "to fight hunger, poverty, destitution and chaos". And in the new world of globalisation with all its inequalities, the philosophy of the post-1945 international order is even more relevant: that global prosperity is indivisible - growth to be sustained has to be shared.

So, to put the needs of Africa first and push forward the debate for a 21st-century Marshall Plan, Tony Blair has responded to Bob Geldof's far-sighted proposal for a new Commission for Africa. At the Sea Island summit in the US, we will, led by Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development, urge the world's richest countries to take the next steps in removing the burden of unpayable debts. We will support equally ambitious proposals to break the deadlock in world trade talks over agricultural protectionism.

And because aid to sub-Saharan Africa has fallen from $33 per head in 1980 to $20 today, the richest countries rightly face pressure to increase development aid, not as compensation to the poorest for their plight, but as investment essential for the economic and social development of those countries. All nations yet to reach 0.7 per cent of GDP for aid must move further and faster to higher aid levels and on to that target.

Fifty countries have already indicated support for Britain's proposal for an International Finance Facility, which by front-loading aid and leveraging in funds from the capital markets, would double aid to halve poverty. Next month, France and Brazil will put their proposals forward for financing development and in October, the IMF and World Bank will produce their ideas. We remain ready to examine any viable initiative. Britain's proposal would release an extra $50bn per year of development aid through to 2015 - $10bn to finance primary school education for every child denied it, the best investment the world could ever make, $20bn to cut infant and maternal mortality and tackle Aids, and $20bn to contribute to economic and social development and halve poverty. Just as with Live Aid in 1985, millions of campaigners for debt relief in 2000 demonstrated their belief in something bigger than themselves and showed that they felt, however distantly, the pain of others.

They not only deserved our praise and respect but demanded a response. By propelling governments into debt relief they showed that people are not powerless, but - acting together - can change the world.

So, too, next year can mark a new beginning: a worldwide campaign for justice on a global scale, a sea change in the way rich countries address the needs of the poor and an affirmation that, even amidst the tensions of globalisation, we are - as we should always have been - not a world permanently divided but one moral universe: today's rich and poor ready to act as one, recognising our shared needs, mutual interests and linked destinies.

The writer is Chancellor of the Exchequer