Posted by: davidjolson | 07/09/2009

Mood of NGOs at L’Aquila Not Optimistic

L’AQUILA, Italy – Heads of state arrived here yesterday for the G8 Summit in the mountains northeast of Rome but the non-governmental organizations are mainly frustrated, angry or both over the likely outcomes, with a few notable exceptions.

On Wednesday,  I talked to civil society experts in most of their areas of concern — global health, water and sanitation, education, food security, climate change and the economy — and all but one expressed varying levels of disquiet. Only a Dutch expert in food security said he was “slightly optimistic” about the prospects for food at this summit.

When I asked a long-time global health advocate (who has been involved in several G8 summits over the last several years) how he was feeling about the prospects for global health, he gave me the thumbs down. He cited his opinion that the donors have not produced any new money of the $60 billion they agreed to raise by 2011 to fight pandemics and strengthen health systems, as agreed at the G-8 Summit in Heiligendamm in 2007 and Toyako in 2008. That is debatable but this particular advocate chose not to count the Global Fund, PEPFAR or PMI in his calculation.

Steve Cockburn of End Water Poverty UK observed at how one can walk around Rome and admire ancient aqueducts and sewage systems that were providing clean water and sanitary sewage disposal 2,000 years ago, services still not available in 2009 in huge parts of the developing world. He called the current draft of the communique on water and sanitation “very disappointing” and predicted the the Millennium Development Goal for water and sanitation will not be met until 2109. The last G8 committed to concrete results by the end of 2009 and when the officials saw that was not going to happen, he said, they “watered down” the language to merely making “progress.”

Those fighting against climate change are equally disillusioned after seeing the lastest draft of the Summit communique yesterday. They characterized the situation as the European Union countries doing the right thing — and even offering to increase their commitments to reduced emissions — while the other members of the G8 — notably the U.S., Canada, Russia and Japan — dragging their feet. Furthermore, they say the non-Europeans’ recalcitrance is discouraging developing countries like China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa from committing more than they already have. They don’t blame President Obama for this but say his feet are tied by a Congress that doesn’t understand this issue.

Those of us who care about global health, water and sanitation are waiting with bated breath to see the final communique on those two issues. The Global Health Council view of the current language in the communique on global health is mostly positive: We like the language on the need to strengthen health systems, the call for a comprehensive and integrated approach, the emphasis on maternal and child health and on sexual and reproductive health which, as I noted in my previous post, is back in the G8 communique after eight years in the wilderness during the Bush Administration. But we also acknowledge the fact that the G8 has not lived up to its commitments.

In my four days in Italy, I have heard some amazing statistics: One of the most amazing and disconcerting is this provided by Angela McClellan of Transparency International in Berlin: The financial industry has received almost 10 times more in bailout money in the last year than many poor countries have received in aid in more than 49 years (source: UN Millennium Campaign).

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