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Some years ago, after the Jubilee 2000 debt-cancellation campaign wound down, Bono and other activists founded a group called DATA, based here in Washington, DC. That stands for "Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa." Yesterday, DATA released a report tracking how well G-8 countries are living up to promises they made at last year's summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, to help Africa--cutting debt, lowering trade barriers, increasing aid, and ensuring near-universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. (It's actually about the G-7, sans Russia.) As Owen Barder blogged a few days ago, several organizations have released such reports. Here's the lead quote in the DATA press release:

The G8 strode forward down the promised path on debt, but have shuffled with a halting half-pace on aid, while falling backwards on trade. The campaigners around the world who got the G8 close to the right path in the first place must now encourage them to accelerate down it. After a slow start in 2005 a faster pace is now needed or the G8 Africa targets will be missed.

Personally, I prefer not to let donors set the agenda when it comes to judging how well they are doing by poorer countries. For if they promise little, they do well. Case in point: debt cancellation, I have long argued, is overemphasized (pdf at bottom of linked page, free subscription). The DATA report lists purported examples of debt relief leading African nations to spend more on health and education. But cause and effect are hard to pin down in such matters, and a high-quality study (pdf) by Nicolas Chauvin and Aart Kraay found no systematic link between debt relief and social spending. Similarly, I worry about the rather single-minded focus on aid for AIDS, which could easily come at the expense of aid for fighting diseases where bang for the buck is higher, or for worthy uses other than health. No doubt DATA would oppose that happening too--but, under its methodology, would also reward it.

Not surprisingly, CGD's Commitment to Development Index does not score countries against promises. That lets it hold countries accountable in policy areas many would rather not talk about, such as migration and global warming.

All that said, the DATA report broadcasts clear messages and makes its methodology transparent. It is right to point out, for example, the backsliding on trade. And holding countries accountable for promises gives a campaign real bite.

Postscript: The DATA report struggles with the incompleteness of the 2005 aid data currently available. Complete data will appear at the end of 2006; only then will we be able to calculate how much actual aid transfers to Africa increased in 2005. I will put the numbers in the Net Aid Transfers database.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.