HUNTSVILLE, Ontario (Reuters) - Rich countries shied away from making bold aid pledges at a Group of Eight meeting on Friday, mindful of their own tight budgets and past broken promises.
The wealthy nations pledged $5 billion over five years to reduce deaths among mothers and their newborns in Africa.
But they have already failed to live up to an ambitious promise from five years ago to double aid by up to $50 billion by 2010. The donors delivered only two-thirds -- or an estimated $18 billion -- of the money they agreed on at a 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was confident the G8 would meet the more modest goal. The host promised to contribute $1.1 billion to the total.
“Because of the tight budgetary situations we are seeing in many countries ... my observation is that leaders have actually been very very cautious in terms of the pledges that have been made,” he told a news conference.
“I don’t think you will again see leaders go out and make pledges that they don’t intend to keep or that they haven’t really thought about thoroughly,” he added.
G8 and development officials said the G8 summit in Huntsville, north of Toronto, would omit any reference to the unfulfilled Gleneagles pledges when it issues its final communique on Saturday.
While the group collectively broke its aid promises, the United States, Britain and Canada delivered what they promised in Gleneagles. Italy delivered none of its funding, while Germany, France and Japan gave less than promised, said anti-poverty group ONE, which tracks the aid.
During Friday’s meeting, U.S. and British leaders pressed other rich nations to deliver on their aid promises.
“I think it is frustrating that world leaders sign up to things and then don’t deliver them and we have to make sure that happens,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters. “We made promises back in Gleneagles. We should stick to those promises.”
The White House said in a statement that President Barack Obama was urging transparency and accountability in the G8.
“The president believes that the credibility of the G8 rests on the willingness of its members to honor their commitments by reporting transparently on progress and identifying areas where additional effort is required,” the statement said.
The World Bank has warned that progress made so far in developing countries could be set back if aid levels declined further, pushing more people into poverty.
The G8 meeting in the lakeside community provides a contrast to the hectic urban pace of Toronto, where other prickly economic issues await the larger Group of 20 summit on Saturday and Sunday.
Although the G8 cannot avoid talking about its own economic troubles -- namely the strength of the global recovery and the state of public finances -- the richest nations carved out time to discuss problems facing poor countries.
Leaders from Haiti, Jamaica and African nations Senegal, Algeria, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt were invited to the G8 meeting.
The goal for mother-and-child health is a particular concern, with the World Bank reporting “fragile and uneven” progress in reducing maternal deaths, a major burden for countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
An estimated 350,000 mothers and 8.8 million children under the age of 5 die each year due to preventable diseases and limited or no access to healthcare, development groups say.
Japan said it would offer up to $500 million in more aid over five years to prevent mothers and newborns from dying.
“The biggest threat to maternal, newborn and child health is that pregnant women and nursing mothers die before getting proper treatment,” a Japanese delegation official quoted Prime Minister Naoto Kan as saying. “We want to focus aid so that women have continued access to treatment and services, before and after giving birth.”
Development groups expressed disappointment at the outcome.
“Yet again the G8 are making pledges good enough for a photo call but insufficient to meet the needs of the millions of people living in poverty worldwide,” ActionAid’s Africa spokesman Henry Malumo said, adding, “Until the G8 deliver on their past promises, it is hard to believe in new ones.”
Writing by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Peter Cooney