World leaders and donor groups have pledged 7.3 billion dollars in aid by 2015 to reduce child mortality and save women in poor countries from dying in childbirth, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday.

The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) industrial economies have pledged 5 billion dollars, while non-members such as New Zealand, Norway and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged a further 2.3 billion dollars, Mr. Harper said.

The pledge is a “historic commitment,” he said: “Women in developing countries will not suffer and die any more for reasons of pregnancy and childbirth.” Aid groups have sharply criticized the bloc for not living up to past commitments, and the money pledged falls far short of the 24 billion dollars sought by international organizations and the United Nations to improve maternal and child health.

Robert Fox of Oxfam said that the pledge for the maternal health initiative was “lower than our lowest expectations.” Mr. Harper admitted that budget constraints brought on by the economic crisis of the last two years had played a role in the decisions of wealthy countries. But he insisted that all the money came in new pledges, rather than shifting money from other sources.

“Despite financial difficulties, we still take seriously our obligations to developing countries,” Harper said.

The G8 leaders were to sound an alarm bell over progress toward international aid and development goals, according to a Friday draft of the G8’s final communique to be released Saturday.

Ten years ago, the U.N. set the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were meant to eradicate extreme poverty and many diseases by 2015. But progress toward the targets has been uneven.

The economic crisis “has jeopardized advancement towards meeting some of the 2015 targets,” read the draft summit statement seen by the German Press Agency dpa.

Among the goals were pledges to reduce dramatically the incidence in developing countries of child mortality and deaths of mothers from childbirth. Official figures show that neither figure has changed significantly in the last decade.

Canada, this year’s G8 president, had led a push to boost aid on the issue and promised 1.1 billion dollars toward the final total.

The U.S. promised 1.35 billion dollars. Other pledges were to be announced on Saturday.

Progress on reducing maternal deaths, estimated at more than 500,000 per year, “has been unacceptably slow” and “is also too slow” on reducing child mortality, the draft communique said.

Marwin Meier of aid group World Vision said Canada’s commitment as the G8 hosts had marked a disappointing start for the initiative: “That was not the starting signal on the financial side that we had hoped for.” The G8 members are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, with the European Union as a permanent observer.

The leaders debated development policy with key African leaders invited to the talks Friday in the secluded resort town of Huntsville, Canada. The larger Group of 20 (G20) bloc, which includes emerging economies, will meet over the weekend in Toronto.

G8 members have not yet managed to live up to their earlier aid pledges, made as part of the MDG process in 2000 and reinforced at a 2005 G8 summit.

Ahead of the meeting, the G8 members published a comprehensive list showing how close each one was to meeting its targets and recommending how each country could improve its performance.

The draft summit statement revealed a split between participants on how to react to the list. Britain, Canada, the EU, France and the United States want the summit to promise to “follow up its recommendations.” But Germany and Italy, whose aid donations are well short of their pledges, simply want to the summit to “acknowledge its findings”.

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