Britain to press for G8 aid commitments at summit

Mon Jul 6, 2009 2:23pm EDT

LONDON, July 6 (Reuters) - Britain vowed on Monday not to cut foreign aid despite the economic crisis and said it would press Italy and other rich countries to do the same at a G8 summit this week.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said Britain was on track to raise foreign aid to the U.N. target of 0.7 percent of gross national income by 2013 but other countries were lagging behind their promises.

Britain will raise the matter at this week's G8 summit in Italy, he said.

"We will be looking to create the opportunity for countries which are off-track to make commitments that will bring them back on track," Alexander told journalists.

"It is not a surprise that the policies of the host will be closely scrutinised at the end of the week."

Aid groups have singled out Italy for criticism, with anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof grilling Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a weekend interview, saying he had slashed, not raised, aid to Africa since 2005.

"I am sorry, we made a mistake," Berlusconi responded, saying Italy's debt mountain and the economic crisis had forced the cut.

At their 2005 summit the G8, which comprises the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Russia, Canada and Japan, promised to more than double aid to Africa by 2010 and to aim for the 0.7 percent target.

"Even in the most difficult times this government will never retreat from the promises it has made to the poorest," Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote in a paper outlining a shift in British aid to focus more on boosting security and justice in "fragile" states.

Presenting the paper to parliament, Alexander said Britain would give more focused aid to fewer countries, adding:

"We are going to work with a particular emphasis on fragile and conflict-affected states, with a third of the world's most poor people living in those states."

He named Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria and Yemen as five key countries where aid programmes would aim to boost employment. He said that in a fundamental shift, half of Britain's aid budget would be spent on such "fragile" states.

He also said that for the first time security and justice would be treated as a basic service alongside health, education, water and sanitation.

This would include training police and setting up law courts, Alexander said in a statement.

Development is a major theme at the three-day G8 summit, which on the final day, Friday, will be broadened to include some African nations. (Reporting by Richard Meares) (For more news on humanitarian issues, visit AlertNet: www.alertnet.org)

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