The world's richest nations will today be told by Gordon Brown to stop backsliding on their pledges to double aid to Africa by 2010. The Prime Minister will risk a clash with world leaders at next week's G8 summit in Japan over their failure to honour pledges to boost aid made three years ago.
Mr Brown is backing Bob Geldolf, who warned yesterday that high energy prices are starving the super-poor in Africa. The prominent aid campaigner and the Prime Minister fear that Japan, France, Italy and Canada are using the global economic downturn as an excuse to scale back their aid payments to the world's poorest countries.
They believe the global food crisis makes it even more important to help Africa feed itself and that rich nations will make a catastrophic error if they turn their back on the continent at such a critical moment.
The Independent has learnt that the draft communiqué for next week's G8 summit in Japan stops short of a full commitment to the aid increase agreed at the landmark Gleneagles summit three years ago, which agreed to double aid to $50bn a year worldwide and $25bn annually for Africa.
Mr Brown will try to toughen up the wording and will warn the summit that China will increase its fast-growing influence in Africa if the G8 club of rich nations reneges on its promises. Mr Geldof, who will lobby G8 leaders for the ONE Campaign in Hokkaido, said yesterday: "It is tragic and absurd that people are still going hungry in the 21st century. I cannot stand the idea that a food crisis born out of high energy prices and increasing global prosperity is starving the super-poor in Africa. None of this is helped by bad trade and subsidy policies."
He said that Japan, which holds the chair of the G8 and is the world's second-largest economy, had a duty to "care for the hungry and ill". He added: "Given the resource crises of the world at this moment, we are dismayed at the low level of expectation emanating from the table of leaders of the wealthiest economies on the planet. It's about time their actions lived up to their perhaps misplaced stature."
Mr Brown, who believes that 2008 is a "make-or-break year" for helping the world's poorest nations, has long made the issue a personal priority and is worried that the momentum that started at Gleneagles may be lost. Although Germany, the United States and Britain are on track to meet their pledges under the historic deal, Italy is behind schedule, Canada's record is mixed, there are fears that France will go slower and Japan, while raising its support for Africa, has a shrinking overall aid budget.
"The Prime Minister wants the G8 to make a strong commitment to what they agreed at Gleneagles, not just to reaffirm it," one government source said. "It would be very stupid to give up on Africa because of the economic downturn – a big strategic error to save a relatively small amount of money. If we invest in agriculture in Africa, we could bring down the price of food. Half of the food produced rots before it gets to the market. It could become the breadbasket for the world."
Mr Brown's four-point plan for the annual G8 gathering includes a $60bn boost for health care in developing nations, to recruit more health workers; extra money to meet shortfalls in a $1bn fund to stop 72 million children missing out on a primary education; and a food-crisis package.
The Prime Minister will also work to find a resolution to the stalled world trade talks, arguing that failure in the next few weeks would deprive millions of a way out of poverty. As on aid, that could put him on a collision course with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President. Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, has accused M. Sarkozy of undermining his position in the talks by attacking his plans to cut European farm import tariffs.
The ONE Campaign is urging all G8 nations to increase the quality and quantity of investments in African agriculture for the next 15 to 20 years, raising global aid from $2bn to between £9bn and $13bn a year.
"More than half the population of sub-Saharan Africa depend on farming to survive, yet farming has been terribly neglected in economic development programmes," said Oliver Buston, a spokesman for ONE. "Increasing food production is critical to saving lives as well as generating sustainable long-term growth." He added: "Every G8 summit since 2005 has repeated the historic commitments made at Gleneagles. To dilute those promises would be a serious breach of trust and credibility."
Other issues on the summit agenda include climate change, the global credit crunch, rocketing oil prices and the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies