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G20 urged not to forget poor countries as economy tanks

world Updated: Apr 02, 2009 21:51 IST
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As G-20 leaders hammered out measures to revive the world economy at Thursday's London summit, leaders of poor countries battled to make sure they were not left behind.

Developing countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin America fear that, as rich nations like the US spend vast sums on pulling their economies out of trouble, they may cut help for poorer nations, with disastrous consequences.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, attending the G-20 as chair of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), warned that some African countries could "go under" if they are not helped through the downturn, threatening "total chaos and violence".

"Banks facing difficulties are being given assistance of tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars," he said ahead of Thursday's crunch summit.

"We have to insist that Africa is at least as important to the global economy as the individual banks in the developed world."

Meanwhile, Bob Geldof, the Irish pop singer turned advocate for Africa, said the summit should find ways of helping poor people to help themselves.

"I want the people on the margins brought to the centre of this debate," he said. "Africans can't buy our stuff because they don't have economies. Build the economy, they buy our stuff and we buy theirs."

Meles, along with developing countries, is calling for development aid to be kept up.

The African Union, also represented at the G-20 meeting, wants a stimulus package for Africa, which has been hit particularly hard by falling commodity prices.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned this week that poor countries were being "hit severely" by the slowdown and the G-20 therefore needed to ensure their aid targets were met.

Poorer countries also want to see reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which can bail out struggling countries, and aid targets to be met.

There are signs that they may get a sympathetic hearing.

Nations like South Africa and Brazil are fighting for poorer countries at the G-20, while organisations like NEPAD, the African Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) were also invited by hosts Britain.

The World Bank wants countries to give 0.7 percent of their stimulus packages to helping developing countries and its chief Robert Zoellick has highlighted the plight of poorer nations in the summit run-up.

"In London, Washington, and Paris people talk of bonuses or no bonuses. In parts of Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, the struggle is for food or no food," Zoellick said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has suggested the need for a massive international stimulus or at least one trillion dollars to support the most vulnerable countries.

Britain's International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander warned Thursday the crisis must not be a "pretext or an excuse" for rich countries to cut promised aid, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has signalled support for boosting the IMF so it can help "blameless" victims.

Some argue that rich countries should see helping poorer ones as an opportunity to help their own economies grow, not an obligation.

"Instead of being protectionist, be expansionary, because that's the only way we can expand our markets," said Geldof.