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Front-line UN agencies welcome G8 summit’s commitment to Africa

Front-line UN agencies welcome G8 summit’s commitment to Africa

Kofi Annan (right) at G8 meeting
United Nations agencies on the front line of the battle against hunger, disease and poverty in Africa have hailed last week’s G8 summit agreement to double overall aid to the continent as an unprecedented commitment, but regretted that there had not been more progress in levelling the playing field in agricultural trade.

Following on Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s statement on Friday which welcomed the “very good news” but also cautioned that it was “only a beginning,” the head of the UN health agency said the “unprecedented commitment” to health had the potential to forever change the lives of millions of people in Africa.

“Disease kills 3.5 million African children under five every year,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Lee Jong-wook noted. “HIV/AIDS affects more than 25 million African people. Tuberculosis kills 1,500 each day. A woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth. I welcome the G8's pledge to turn these trends around.”

“To make a difference which can impact generations of people, the G8 recognizes that health systems must be strengthened," he said, citing the pledges to provide near-universal access to AIDS treatment by 2010, reach malaria targets with known and affordable interventions, continue support through 2008 to help to eradicate polio.

“Efforts to ensure health workers can be trained, and have incentive to remain and work in their regions, is a key component of a strong health system,” he added.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP), which helps developing countries attract and use aid effectively, applauded the G8 pledge to double aid to Africa and eliminate outstanding debts from the poorest countries to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral lenders, but noted that the summit fell short on other targets.

“Today was a good day for Africa and a good day for the fight against poverty, even if it was not so good on trade or climate change,” said UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown, who was in Gleneagles, Scotland, with Mr. Annan, whose Chef de Cabinet he is.

But he noted that while the G8 leaders said they agreed in principle to phase out agricultural subsidies that have been shown to penalize farmers, they did not set a firm timetable for the elimination.

“The outcome on trade was a disappointment, frankly, in contrast to the commitment for increased aid resources,” Mr. Malloch Brown said. “Citizens groups in industrialized nations and the leaders of the developing countries themselves must intensify pressure for the elimination of these unfair and costly subsidies, and the thorough reform of other trade practices that penalize the world’s poor.”