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French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper upon arrival at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, on May 26, 2011. (POOL/Reuters)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper upon arrival at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, on May 26, 2011. (POOL/Reuters)

Europe debt crunch delays Harper's G8 initiatives on maternal health Add to ...

Stephen Harper's hopes for the a united effort to fight infant mortality appear to be colliding with the dark realities of Europe's financial crisis.

The Prime Minsiter arrived at the Deauville, France G8 summit on Thursday announcing his hope of squeezing promised but undelivered maternal-health aid funds out of the world's major leaders, but his hopes of getting the world to deliver on its commitments are at odds with the deep fiscal emergencies that have eclipsed most other issues for the largely European group of leaders.

At last year's Muskoka, Ontario G8 summit, Mr. Harper managed to secure pledges of $5-billion over five years for maternal, newborn and child health in the developing world. That built upon a 2005 G8 summit pledge to double foreign aid to Africa's poorest countries.

Canadian officials said in briefings that they want to see the G8 leaders issue a statement that renews their commitments to their Muskoka pledges to the maternal-health fund.

"What the prime minister will be raising is the importance of delivering on commitments and monitoring their progress," Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister's communications director, told reporters Thursday morning.

But a series of reports this month have shown that the G8 nations are falling far short of both their maternal-health and their larger African aid pledges - and that the European countries, traditionally the largest donors to such humanitarian initiatives, are faring the worst.

A report released by the French G8 this week on the accountability of member countries to their pledges on heath and food security indicates that the Muskoka Initiative's actual pledges are still far removed from the larger promise.

And the shortfalls are coming from those countries - in Europe and Japan - that are facing the most serious fiscal emergencies and are least likely to be able raise their commitments.

Canada, the report says, has pledged $1.1-billion between 2010 and 2015 to the maternal-health program, and Britain and the U.S. have pledged even larger amounts - $3.4-billion, or almost half the initiative's total goal, from the U.K., and $1.3-billion from the U.S. for the 2010-11 years alone.

But the larger European countries that have traditionally been the major contributors to such aid programs are providing only token amounts: a few hundred million euros each from France and Germany and a paltry $75-million each from Russia and Italy.

A United Nations commission reported last week that "of the eight Millennium Development Goals, the two specifically concerned with improving the health of women and children are the furthest from being achieved by 2015."

And a report this week from the international aid organization ONE indicates that the actual amounts spent so far appear to fall short of the amounts pledged. Their research shows that rather than falling $1-billion a year short of the Gleneagles pledges, the G8 countries are calling over $18-billion short (in part because they failed to take inflation into account).

"The increases [in African aid]were largely a result of the U.K. making commendable progress towards its very ambitious target, and the U.S., Japan and Canada surpassing their relatively modest targets," ONE executive director Jamie Drummond said. But Italy, France and Germany, he said, are "condemnable" and have failed to meet their targets.

European leaders hinted Wednesday that increasing aid commitments or sticking to pledges might come secondary to the larger challenge of rescuing the euro zone economies from fiscal collapse.

"We all have domestic situations at home that are occupying us," Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the EU's top body the European Council, told reporters. "As you know, in the Euro zone we have had to deal with a crisis of sovereign debt."

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