Wave of goodwill must remain long after Live 8

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 July, 2005, 12:00am

Last night's final guitar chord has echoed away, the drums have fallen silent and there are no more songs. Live 8, the four-continent, 11-city musical extravaganza organised to switch the world on to global poverty is over.

From Tokyo to London to Philadelphia, we are now more aware of the problems people in developing countries, particularly in Africa, face. World leaders attending the smmit of the Group of Eight most industrialised nations in Gleneagles, Scotland, this week have been given the message that they have to do more to help the needy.

Live 8 organisers, including Sir Bob Geldof, Bono and Richard Curtis, and fellow pop stars who freely gave their services should rightly be proud of what they have achieved. Through music, they have shamed politicians into putting what has been the world's most intractable issue on national agendas, while educating about the evils of poverty.

The anti-poverty campaign is off to a good start, but it has a long way to go. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and treasurer Gordon Brown have led the drive to help Africa's poor, and their efforts paid off last month when G8 finance ministers struck a landmark deal to cancel US$40 billion in debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest nations - 14 of them in Africa. And on Thursday, US President George W. Bush said his country would double its aid to developing nations over the next five years.

Alas, he laid out preconditions, which most governments would have difficulty meeting in such a time frame. These included being free of corruption and embracing democratic political systems. Furthermore, development experts have long advocated that the world's rich nations would have to dedicate at least 0.7 per cent of their annual budgets to foreign aid to ensure sufficient support for poor countries. That small percentage is achieved by less than a handful of nations today.

Sir Bob has amply highlighted that anomaly, and G8 leaders will hopefully pledge to make amends when they begin their two-day meeting on Wednesday. He is urging them to find an additional US$2 billion, which is still needed to meet the goal of doubling aid to Africa to US$25 billion a year by 2010, as called for by Mr Blair's Commission for Africa.

That is the least they can do. They should also promise to write off more debt and make the world trade system fairer for poor nations.

It is important to note that more charity is only half the solution. Poor nations also must do their part to help themselves. Many of their leaders have fed cynicism among donors by siphoning off aid money to build their weapons stockpiles or to collect fleets of luxury cars for personal use. Some western analysts argue that forgiving debts in such circumstances would only fuel even more irresponsible spending.

If recipient countries can improve their government accountability and transparency, this would undoubtedly encourage more giving and produce happier results. As we report in our Live 8 coverage, Tanzania saw a huge jump in school enrolment when the government moved to abolish school fees after its foreign debt burden was reduced. Meanwhile, Ethiopia is poorer today than it was in 1985, when Sir Bob's Live Aid concerts targeted it for help.

That should not, however, deter donor nations from doing their utmost to fulfil their promise to lend a bigger hand. Pledges, as charities well know, are just that until the money materialises.

Given the high international profile of Live 8 and the specific message it gave, politicians gathering in Scotland have more pressure to act than usual. With the world watching their every move, they must rise up to the challenge of reducing global poverty - and ensure that it does happen in coming months, years and, if necessary, decades.