I arrived at the G8 by a roundabout route. Just a day earlier, I was standing in Dandora, a toxic tip on the edge of Nairobi where little girls as young as five-years-old live on a mound composed of toxic and human waste. They survive by competing with wild pigs for scraps of rubbish, forced to sell their bodies to get access to the richest pickings.
I was there to bear witness to the good work aid does before travelling to the Toronto summit as Oxfam’s Global Ambassador. Comic Relief, a British charity, rescues children from this dump and gives them schooling in a safe, almost fairytale environment. At the G8, I have been lobbying for action, with TV and radio appearances to do what little I can to put pressure on leaders to live up to their aid promises first made in 2005 in Gleneagles, Scotland. G8 governments are $20 billion short on those promises due this year. It takes $220 to rescue a girl from Dandora. Just think what a difference that could make in Africa and elsewhere.
The summit did bring the promise of $7.3bn to improve maternal and child health. Good news, you might think, when a shocking 1,000 women and girls every day die unnecessarily from complications in childbirth and an estimated $10bn-a-year is needed to solve the problem.
Sadly, the good news is limited. The money will come over five years. The G8 has promised only $5bn, the rest will come from a combination of other countries and the Gates Foundation. I find it incredible that with a promise of $1.5bn over five years, Bill and Melinda Gates are providing almost a third of the total of the club of the world’s richest economies.
Worse, the promise of ‘new’ aid is a scandal of creative accounting. With no increase in overall G8 aid, their money will have to be taken from other pots, from the budgets for food, clean water, health or education. I wish someone would tell me how it can be right that a mother’s health should be secured by sacrificing her child’s schooling.
Now attention shifts to the G20, which has the opportunity to make good the G8’s broken promises. Leaders will discuss a simple but brilliant idea for a tax on banks and hedge funds – dubbed a Robin Hood Tax - that could raise $400bn-a-year for good causes. Oxfam are pressing for half this money to help poor people hit hardest by the economic slump, hunger and climate change.
Gambling by the financial sector was a big cause of the economic crisis but banks, bailed out to the tune of $17trillion are now returning to bonuses as usual. Banking is the most profitable industry on earth but is taxed the least. With rich governments unwilling to make good on their own promises, surely they can ask bankers to spare some of their small change to help the girls from Dandora and millions more who need a little help from us to get to first base with a chance then to help themselves.
There is no banker on earth who could stand beside me on Dandora’s toxic tip, watch little girls as young as five-years-old compete with wild pigs for rotting food to eat and comfortably reach for their bonus instead of supporting a Robin Hood Tax.
I formally invite senior bankers to come, see what I have seen and decide for themselves.