How Cameron can show leadership on aid at the G8 this summer

To emulate the Labour government's achievements at Gleneagles in 2005, the Prime Minister needs to make progress on transparency and tax.

Sometimes good news isn't boring. Since 2005, when hundreds of thousands of people marched on Edinburgh ahead of the G8 in support of the Make Poverty History campaign, child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa is down by 18 per cent and 21 million more children are in school. African leadership, with financial support from the G8 and other donors, has delivered a remarkable success story that far too few people know about.

The ONE campaign's new report Summit in Sight: The G8 and Africa from Gleneagles to Lough Erne shows that this progress has not happened by accident. African leadership has helped the region to grow by an average of 5 per cent GDP for the past eight years, increasing the resources that governments have to spend on health and education. It was also a deliberate decision by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to put African development issues at the top of the agenda for the Gleneagles summit in 2005 and to give it the political attention necessary to deliver a strong agreement. Eight years later there is an extra £7bn in development aid going to sub-Saharan Africa every year from G8 countries, and the agreement on debt relief has wiped out £22bn. Like all ventures, some of this aid fails but the vast majority improves the lives of some of the world's poorest people, for example by paying for 5.4 million more people to access anti HIV/AIDS treatment.

In the UK, this commitment to extra funding has continued under the coalition government and in this month's Budget, George Osborne can make good on the UK's promise to assign 0.7 per cent of national income to the aid budget from 2013. It would be the wrong time to abandon this promise and it is to the government's credit that the UK is continuing to lead by example within the G8.

While significant progress has been made, that is no reason for complacency. Hunger in Africa has barely decreased since 2005 and despite increases in GDP, inequality remains a severe challenge. African governments and citizens will be the primary drivers of change and the G8 should support that by agreeing an ambitious package on transparency and tax at Lough Erne this summer. It should make progress on giving citizens the information they need to hold their leaders to account and hasten the day when aid is no longer necessary. It should also follow through on its 2012 promise to work with African governments to lift 50 million people out of poverty through investments in agriculture.

This requires the G8 to start by getting its own house in order. David Cameron should secure a commitment from all countries to lift the veil of secrecy on company ownership by putting the names of the ultimate beneficial owners into public registries. This would crack down on shell companies, lifting the veil of secrecy that shrouds illicit financial flows out of Africa. Cameron should also get agreement for all oil, gas and mining companies listed in G8 countries to report the payments they make to governments around the world, on a project-by-project basis. Finally, to ensure this progress in transparency translates into accountability, and ultimately improves the lives of people living in poverty, urgently needed support should be found for supreme audit institutions, revenue authorities and anti-corruption champions.

These are not simple wins for any leader - the reforms challenge vested interests and the systemic causes of poverty that have kept power out of the hands of the many for too long. Cameron must invest time and political capital if he is to emulate the Labour government's achievements at Gleneagles. His "golden thread" theory of development is potentially transformative if translated into real policy progress on hard issues in June. The galvanising effect of the 2005 G8 commitments has helped deliver an extraordinary eight years of progress. Now this government must show they are up to the task.

Joe Powell is senior policy and advocacy manager at the ONE campaign

David Cameron speaks while standing with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at the United Nations. Photograph: Getty Images. P

Joe Powell is senior policy and advocacy manager at the ONE campaign

Getty
Show Hide image

The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.