Downing Street hailed a promise by George W. Bush to double aid to Africa Thursday, saying it helped Tony Blair's big goal of boosting aid to Africa by $25 billion by 2010.
But Bush's offer, centering initially on a $1.2 billion injection to cut malaria deaths in half by 2010, was greeted skeptically by aid agencies, some of which claimed the bulk of the money was coming from already earmarked U.S. funds and was anyway likely to be rejected by the Republican Congress.
The British agencies, including ActionAid, also claimed the boost in cash would not come for five years -- behind the timetable set by the Commission for Africa. No. 10 experts accepted that the "precise timetable for the upward curve in spending" was not yet clear.
However, they insisted that Bush had moved and, if he stuck to his promises, would provide 20 percent of the world's aid going to sub-Sahara Africa by 2010, as well as 60 percent of the food aid.
Blair was informed of the Bush move Thursday morning, and his aides said the announcement, in conjunction with the previously announced debt relief package, "creates real momentum for a successful outcome."
Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, said: "It looks as if we are almost there. It looks now as if we will reach the additional $25 billion in development aid for Africa by 2010 that the Commission for Africa said was needed in its report in the spring."
The aid package came as the Paris Club of creditors unveiled a plan for the biggest debt relief package in African history, announcing it would open talks with Nigeria to eradicate $31 billion of debts within six months.
Nigeria, seen as the potential motor of the African economy, has been battling to fight corruption, and the announcement represents a triumph for the lobbying efforts of the Nigerian finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The new Bush package contained four elements:
-- An extra $1.2 billion over five years aimed at halving the mortality rate from malaria in 15 African countries through new drugs and insecticide-treated nets. The program would start in Tanzania, Uganda and Angola next year, followed by a further four countries in 2007 and a further five in 2008. The mosquito-borne disease infects as many as 400 million people worldwide, killing 1 million a year.
-- An extra $400 million over four years for America's African education initiative, designed to train teachers and provide scholarships for 300,000 girls. Only half of African children complete primary education.
-- An extra $55 million over four years to help with legal rights for women in four countries.
-- Training of 40,000 African peacekeepers over the next five years as part of a wider G8 initiative.
The bulk of the proposed doubling in U.S. aid to Africa will come from already planned increases in aid to Africa set aside in the Millennium Challenge Account and anti-AIDS programs.
A Brookings Institution study released this week said that in 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration, total spending on African aid was $2.3 billion. The total for 2004, the last completed year of the Bush administration, was $3.4 billion, or just over a 50 percent increase. Much of the increase was in emergency food aid.