NGOs slam G8 poverty pledges

"Today's inaction plan on health is a bitter pill to swallow for people in developing countries who know that, behind closed doors, the G8 are deliberately blocking access to affordable drugs in trade negotiations," said a spokesman for MSF.

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France, (UPI) - Advocacy groups Tuesday railed about the "failure" of the world's most powerful leaders to bridge the widening gap between rich and poor nations during the G8 summit.

African heads of state invited to the three-day meeting also lamented the lack of progress on debt relief and "fair trade" rules.

"Stale crumbs for the poor fall from G8 table," said the Christian charity Tearfund. Friends of the Earth International said the summit in the Alpine spa resort of Evian-Les-Bains was a "triumph - for corporations."

Speaking at the end of the meeting, French President Jacques Chirac described the G8 meeting as a "summit of dialogue - particularly with non-governmental organizations."

The lavish get-together produced some concrete commitments - in particular on increasing the global fund to combat AIDS and on financing clean water initiatives in poor countries - but advocacy groups said the summit was more a "dialogue of the deaf."

Barry Coates, director of the World Development Movement, said: "Past summits have taught us to have low expectations of the G8. Our expectations have been met. We expected nothing more than a photo opportunity and that is what we got."

Oxfam International spokesman Phil Twyford told United Press International that the Chirac's conclusions on development issues "scaled new heights of vacuity."

"After two summits when G8 leaders have patently failed to deliver on their own rhetoric, it poses a real question about the credibility of their efforts," he said.

Despite a pledge by leaders to strike a deal on providing cheap access to medicines before September, NGOs were unimpressed.

"Today's inaction plan on health is a bitter pill to swallow for people in developing countries who know that, behind closed doors, the G8 are deliberately blocking access to affordable drugs in trade negotiations," said a spokesman for Paris-based Médecins Sans Frontières.

Development groups also criticized G8 backtracking on reducing the debt of third world countries. Five years after the G8 agreed to forgive $110 billion of debt, less than one-third of that amount had been written off, claimed the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Describing the summit outcome as "extremely disappointing," the group's press officer Polly Jones told UPI that the momentum toward debt reduction had "completely stalled" in recent years.

The criticism was also voiced by African leaders attending the summit. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said, "There has been little giving too late" and said the international community's plan to restructure debt "hasn't made a tremendous impact."

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said that in the 40 years that the debt question had been brought up by world leaders, "nothing has moved."

In a summit overshadowed by Franco-American attempts to heal relations frayed by the Iraqi war, G8 leaders made some progress on development issues.

In a closing statement, Chirac tasked G8 finance ministers to look into Britain's proposal to double the amount of development aid from $50 billion to $100 billion.

Ministers were given one month to draw up a medium-term aid package to help Algeria rebuild after last month's earthquake.