Debt 'shame' of the G8 nations

28th July 2000 at 01:00

THE leaders of the world's wealthiest nations this week won only qualified praise from UK charities despite endorsing the United Nations' commitment to universal primary education.

The failure of the G8 summit in Okinawa to identify clear funding, combined with a distinct lack of progress in debt reduction, left many commentators feeling that the pound;500 million gathering was little more than empty rhetoric.

Serious financial commitments - such as Japan's offer of pound;9.9 bn to supply computers to poor countries - were mainly reserved for bridging the information technology gap - a worthy goal that just happens to offer export opportunities. Similarly, Bill Clinton's offer of pound;200 million to supply free school meals may do more to reduce a US food surplus than meet the basic needs of education systems in crisis.

Fudging the US-European split on the role of multilateral initiatives, the final communique agreed to: "strengthen efforts bilaterally and together with international organisations and private- sector donors to achieve the goals of universal primary education by 2015 and gender equality in schooling by 2005".

It also said that donor countries should "focus on education in their poverty reduction strategies".

Oxfam commented: "While it's gratifying to see world education debated seriously at summit level, President Clinton's offer of free school lunches does little to address the fundamental issues of a lack of schools, classrooms and books. The problem for many poor countries is that even such basics are ften sacrificed to debt-servicing."

Tony Burdon, Oxfam's education campaigner, said: "Okinawa represents a step forward because it shows that the world's richest countries have started to take universal education seriously."

But Oxfam is disappointed the G8 countries didn't go further to help developing countries meet the international goals agreed at the UN conference in Dakar, Senegal, in April. "We estimate it will cost pound;5.3 billion a year to get all the world's children into school - roughly four days' global military expenditure," Mr Burdon said.

"The shameful failure to make progress on debt undermines their commitments to health, education and poverty reduction. It's impossible to reduce poverty in poor countries without providing substantial and immediate debt relief. Tanzania - one of the few countries that has managed to qualify for debt relief - still spends more on debt repayments than on health and education combined.

"This is a country where more than two million kids are out of school and almost one million people are afflicted by HIV."

Christian Aid's Andrew Pendleton added: "While it's essential to bring developing countries into the loop of emerging technology, IT is meaningless to people who can't read and write and have no access to electricity.

"Similarly, it's ludicrous to think you can have effective health education - particularly Aids awareness - without basic primary education. The summit failed to grasp the utter futility of continuing to demand repayment of unpayable debt."

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