Aid organizations have stepped up their pressure on the leaders attending the G8 and G20 summits in Toronto for a levy on international financial transactions. “Rich countries have bailed out their banks but no one is bailing out the poorest people,” development agency Oxfam’s spokesman Mark Fried said on Thursday.

The proposed 0.5 per cent “Robin Hood” tax on international transactions, also known as a Tobin tax after Novel Laureate James Tobin, could generate between 400 and 650 billion dollars a year, according to estimates. “It’s nothing to [the banks],” British actor and Oxfam ambassador Bill Nighy said, “they would not even feel it.” The tax would be an opportunity to tax the “gambling that got us into trouble in the first place,” he said. The revenue should be put towards humanitarian objectives, development aid and the fight against climate change, aid groups say.

The idea has its advocates among G8 leaders. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday, calling for such a currency transaction tax to be considered, among other options, at the summit. Oxfam and other organizations are asking that alternative sources of funding for development be established, since the world’s eight leading industrial countries have fallen 20 billion dollars short of recent pledges for development aid. At the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, the leaders said they would provide 50 billion dollars to the world’s poorest countries by 2010.

Only 11 billion dollars have reached African countries, which were meant to receive half the money. Aid organizations are not convinced that leaders are taking the issue seriously enough at the summit. A draft of the closing declaration did not back up the Gleneagles commitment, Oxfam’s Joern Kalinski said on Thursday. “It is shocking and embarrassing,” he said.

“When you write a cheque that bounces you have to cover it somehow,” Mr. Fried said. The summit should produce an emergency plan to explain how the shortfall can be made up by 2012, he said. “Behind each dollar they fail to provide lies a child without schooling, a patient without medicine, a woman dying in childbirth for lack of care,” Mr. Fried said. Malawian activist Dorothy Ngoma agreed. “G8 leaders must hear our call and do the right thing,” she said.

Summit host Canada has designated as priority areas the health and survival of pregnant women, women during childbirth and children up to the age of five. But addressing these areas alone will require 10 billion dollars in additional funding, Ms. Ngoma said.