G8 was an insult to the world's poor

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To fly halfway across the world just to sit on your hands seems rather a waste of time. Yet that is what the leaders of the G8 nations have done, jetting to Japan for their expensive beanfeast, only to offer nothing new to the world's debtor nations. Instead, patronising words were in plentiful supply, suggesting that an end to conflicts might speed up debt relief - coupled with a few billions to help Third World countries hire Western computer experts. It was more than a wasted opportunity; it was an insult to the world's poor.

To fly halfway across the world just to sit on your hands seems rather a waste of time. Yet that is what the leaders of the G8 nations have done, jetting to Japan for their expensive beanfeast, only to offer nothing new to the world's debtor nations. Instead, patronising words were in plentiful supply, suggesting that an end to conflicts might speed up debt relief - coupled with a few billions to help Third World countries hire Western computer experts. It was more than a wasted opportunity; it was an insult to the world's poor.

Nobody expects debt relief to be used to prop up corrupt and vicious regimes. "Conditionality", the tying of debt relief to democratic and other social reforms, is a sensible approach, long accepted by many campaigners. But the fact remains that a pledge was made a year ago to write off $100bn (£66bn) of debt by the end of this year - and it now looks as though less than a third of this promise will be met. Only nine countries, rather than the 40 initially targeted, are now deemed to be worthy of debt forgiveness. But why on earth should poor countries meet their obligations to the West, if the West won't reciprocate?

Britain, to be fair, has taken a lead on the issue. Back in December, Gordon Brown and Clare Short offered, over time, to scrap the debt owed to the UK by the world's 41 poorest nations. It was a small but appropriate and timely gesture. Now it is time for the other G8 countries to follow suit - before they fly back home tonight.

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