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Is the G8 Still Relevant?

Next week, G8 leaders meet in L'Aquila, Italy, amid the global economic crisis and some unfulfilled promises to the developing world. As a result, some are raising questions about the importance of the G8 summit.

Patrick Watt, head of public affairs and campaigns for the humanitarian agency World Vision UK, spoketo VOA from Westminster, England, about the relevance of the G8.

"The summit coming up next week is going to be a test of whether the G8 can continue to demonstrate relevance. And to do that it's going to have to deliver on the pledges that it's made, not least to the world's poorest countries," he says.

Promises made, promises not kept?

In 2005, at the Gleneagles Summit in Scotland, G8 leaders pledged to greatly increase aid to the developing world. Critics say many of those promises have not been met.

"I think there are probably different reasons in different G8 countries. I think in some countries it's been down to a lack of political leadership. Some countries don't necessarily have the same history of high-level commitment to international development," he says.

He says Italy, the summit host, was "lacking on its aid commitments well before the current recession that's now being used as an alibi."

For its part, Italy has placed aid to Africa high on the agenda at the L'Aquila summit. Watt says the United States and Britain have a good record of meeting their commitments or being on track to do so.

"That underscores the fact that these commitments are achievable," he says.

Two big challenges of health and aid

"The G8 have already made a number of pledges to tackle the global health situation…to cut child deaths by two-thirds by the year 2015…. The G8 has already come up with commitments, for example, in 2006 to pledge $60 billion in aid over five years to help address that," he says.

"What we're calling on the G8 to do is to actually fulfill those pledges. There are other challenges as well: the commitment to ensure that everybody with HIV is on treatment…by the year 2015."

Keeping track of the G8

Watt says a better accounting system is needed to check on whether G8 assistance pledges have been met.

"There's been a lot of discussion…about what's being called an accountability matrix…. There would be a tracking, country by country, where each of the G8 members is in terms of fulfilling the pledges it's made to the poorer countries," he says.

But he says both Italy and Germany are opposed to the idea, which means such a tracking system may not be mentioned in the summit's final communiqué.

"Without any basic accountability, it's very hard to actually really follow through on these pledges and have transparency about what has and has not been done," he says.

Watt calls Africa the G8's "litmus test" for the L'Aquila summit.

"Because it's the poorest region of the world. It's the region of the world where aid continues to play a very critical role in enabling people to meet their most basic needs," he says.

Countries like Ghana and Tanzania were only able to make great strikes in education and health, he says, because of ""critical support from donor countries like the United States…UK…France and Germany."

"Africa is the test bed. And it's the region where half of the aid increase that was committed in 2005 (at Gleneagles) is supposed to be going," he says.