Posted by: davidjolson | 06/25/2010

As Canadian summits open, NGOs have mixed feelings

TORONTO, Canada — As world leaders arrive in Canada for the twin G8 and G20 summits, NGOs who advocate for global health have decidedly mixed feelings about the annual gatherings of world leaders.

On the one hand, we are excited that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pushing for a $1 billion Canadian initiative on maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH), a surprising development when it was announced in January since Harper is not known as a champion of international development, and since MNCH was almost completely ignored at the 2009 G8 in Italy and G20 in Pittsburgh. We are grateful to our colleagues in Canadian civil society for their efforts in making that happen.

At the same, NGOs are profoundly disappointed with the tone the same Canadian government has set by barring NGOs and civil society from the international media center for the first time in recent history. In both L’Aquila, Italy and Pittsburgh last year, NGOs and media shared the same media center in a way that was mutually beneficial for both parties.

We don’t understand why the Canadian government felt it necessary to segregate the NGOS in separate facilities. The International Media Center — the “real” media center — is across the street from the “Alternative” Media Center (where the NGOs are congregated and from where I write this) but the “real” center is surrounded by a wire fence and concrete barriers, apparently to impede aggressive NGO representatives, who have to be invited in by journalists.

The Harper government seems to be going in a different direction from the United Nations, which last week opened its process leading to September’s summit on the Millennium Development Goals to civil society and the private sector for the first time, with informal and interactive hearings to get various perspectives on how to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDGs.

Interaction, the coalition of U.S. NGOs with which Global Health Council shares reciprocal membership), felt so strongly about this adverse development that they decided not to send anyone to Toronto, even though it normally coordinates the U.S. civil society presence at these summits. Yesterday, Interaction issued a statement critical of this lack of access, which makes it more difficult to achieve a “transparent monitoring system” that is needed to evaluate if donor countries actually honor their commitments.

U.S. President Barack Obama just arrived at Toronto airport, the last G8 leader to arrive, and is helicoptering to Muskoka, the remote resort area north of here, for the beginning of the G8 Summit. The G20 Summit starts here in Toronto tomorrow.

For great background information and useful links on the G8 and G20 summits, go to the Council’s special G8/G20 webpage.

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