Paul Vallely: Time running out to deliver promises to world's poorest

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The Independent Online

It is three years since I met Teklu and he is still waiting. We had stopped the car by the edge of a precipitous plateau in the Ethiopian highlands to take in the view. Teklu, aged nine, appeared from nowhere, with a herd of goats in his wake. He told us his story; how his ambition was to go to school but there was not one nearby that his parents could afford so he spent every day looking after the animals.

Teklu is one of the 32 million African children who have been let down by the broken promises of Gleneagles, the 2005 G8 summit at which the rich world solemnly pledged to double aid to Africa by 2010.

It was not an impossible dream but a realistic target. Yet we are more than halfway to the date and the $19.3bn (£9.4bn) global aid total in 2004 has risen by only $4bn. When the G8 leaders meet in Japan today – along with the leaders of seven African nations – they will be confronted with the unpalatable truth that we are on target for failure. In countries such as Ethiopia, things have got worse not better. Teklu is almost certainly still spending his days with only goats for company.

What makes his story all the more poignant is that where the Gleneagles money has arrived it has been an enormous success. Take Kaloleni primary school in the Tanzanian city of Arusha. As well as the extra aid, Gleneagles promised $42bn of debt cancellation to 19 African nations. That was delivered. So the money which would have gone on debt repayments has been channelled into a threefold increase in spending on health and education last year. An extra $14bn has been spent. In Tanzania, that meant tens of thousands of extra classrooms and trained teachers. In Kaloleni, 98.5 per cent of children aged 5 to 12 are now in school. Yet such success, only highlights the degree of the failure. What has been achieved is very significant. Throughout Africa the number of children in primary school has risen by almost a quarter since Gleneagles. But there are still 32 million children without education.

It is the same in other fields. Improved vaccination has saved the lives of three million more children; but five million will still die unnecessarily over the next two decades. The number of people receiving anti-Aids drugs has risen from few thousand in 2004 to 1.3 million today; but there are still nearly five million without care.

What the G8 must do this week is set out specific timetables and programmes of action on delivery. They must finance the shortfalls in the budget of the UN's education fast-track initiative to get children into school. Similarly, on health they must fix a date for the first tranche of the $60bn they have promised to train the extra health workers that poor countries need. The UK has a good record on delivering to date, as does the US. Germany has just committed to pay its share but France, Canada, Italy and the hosts, Japan, are dragging their feet, using the global economic downturn as an excuse.

But that downturn makes action more urgent not less. Soaring prices and oil prices have pushed an extra 100 million people down to join the billion who already exist on less than $1 a day. Decades of developmental progress have been reversed.

The economic and moral imperatives all point in the same direction. It is time to deliver on the promises made to that nine-year-old Abyssinian boy.