WHEN IT COMES TO POVERTY, the world has a short attention span. Seldom has that been demonstrated more clearly than at the Group of 8 summit that ended Monday, when an agenda that already gave short shrift to the problems of the developing world was largely hijacked by current events.
Just a year ago, global poverty was Topic A at the G-8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, with the group of industrialized nations devising an inspiring agreement to relieve the crushing debts faced by many Third World nations and to boost development aid.
The summit's host sets the agenda, and this year's host, Russia, had other interests. President Vladimir V. Putin set out to focus on energy security, infectious diseases (mostly the scourge of bird flu, which so far is of almost no danger to humans, rather than real killers like malaria and AIDS) and education.
Russia didn't get much of what it wanted, thanks in part to the dangerous conflict between Israel and the Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah, which took up much of the time and attention of the leaders gathered in St. Petersburg. (It also prompted President Bush to utter a four-letter word during what he thought was an unmonitored conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, quickly overshadowing more important news at the summit.) But the world's poor were far bigger losers than the Russians. No attempt was made to build on last year's progress or ensure that the promises made at Gleneagles are kept.