The European Commission has outlined plans to bring forward development aid earmarked for later years. But NGOs say the measures are not sufficient to tackle the roots of poorer nations' problems.
A large share of development aid goes towards food
The European Union's executive arm will pull forward aid to developing nations hard hit by the worldwide economic crisis.
"Those least responsible for the financial crisis are among those worst hit by its economic effects," European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday.
The European Commission said it would bring forward 4.3 billion euros ($5.7 billion) in resources to 2009 previously earmarked to help poor countries fight a recession that has staunched credit flows, curtailed investment and sent a number of local currencies into a tailspin.
Development commissioner Louis Michel said advancing money allowed the aid "to have an impact when it is most needed."
The Commission said it will speed up three billion euros, or 72 percent of its budget support to African, Pacific and Caribbean nations. It will direct at least 500 million euros to support local welfare spending. In addition, 800 million euros from an existing facility to combat hunger will be made available this year.
However, the EU will not provide additional funds.
"We didn't come here to announce to you any huge new sums," Michel said. "Of course our ambitions are limited. But we are going to keep putting the pressure on."
EU measures "an empty package"
Aid organizations, though, have criticized the EU plans. The European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development, Concord, said the measures fell "far short" of what was needed.
Climate change has hit developing nations particularly hard
"Less than one week after the G20, the EU has produced a strategy that fails to address the underlying flaws in the system that we know fuel poverty in developing countries," said Concord's EU policy officer Ester Asin-Martinez.
The international anti-poverty agency ActionAid said the plans left many issues open.
"We're not clear on how Europe is actually going to soften the blow of the financial crisis in poor countries," Alexandre Polack, ActionAid's head of European policy, said in a statement.
Polack said the package had little solutions to the problems faced by developing countries.
"We have not seen any useful ideas coming out of this package on how to support developing countries in dealing with climate change, on stopping tax evasion or on coping with the effects of trade policies," Polack said. "The Commission demonstrated its good intentions today, but what it is offering is effectively an empty package."
By frontloading aid, the EU left open what would happen in subsequent years.
"We fear that with no new money, poor countries will suffer in years to come, when aid dries up," said Hetty Kovach, Oxfam International's policy advisor on aid. "Europe needs to dig deep to help prevent this crisis from becoming a humanitarian disaster."
Aid must be a joint EU effort
G20 leaders last week in London agreed on an international strategy to pull the global economy out of crisis, including new moves to help poor nations. Europe is the biggest aid donor in the world.
Louis Michel says Europe can help in relieving human suffering
"I am proud that Europe is first to act after the G20 in support of developing countries," Michel said.
The Commission said it would focus on three main measures: "first, keeping our promises," second, paying more quickly old money earmarked last year for developing countries, and third, having the commission and member states work more closely together to be more efficient.
Barroso said no country could hold back.
"The recession must not, cannot and will not be used as an excuse for going back on our promises to keep on increasing aid," Barroso said.
Aid from the 27 nation bloc rose to 49 billion euros last year. But aid volumes will need to increase to some 69 billion euros in 2010 to meet interim aid spending targets, the Commission said.
"We are now more than half way to the 2015 deadline for reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals and some of the gains achieved so far risk being forfeited, leaving poor countries worse off than before the crisis," Barroso said.
World leaders of 189 countries agreed on the so-called Millennium Development Goals in 2000. They consist of eight targets for reducing poverty by 2015 - including halving the number of people living on less than $1 a day.