Stuttering progress at the G8

By James Addis, Senior Editor

World Vision campaigners make the point that G8 promises on child and maternal health are overdue. (Henry VanderSpek/WV)

“Any problem can be rendered insoluble,” some wit once said, “if there are enough meetings held to discuss it.” If you enjoy that line as much as I do, you might be skeptical that last weekend’s round of meetings of the G8 and G20—involving heads of state from the world’s major economies—could possibly produce anything useful.

Nevertheless, World Vision has quite a big interest in the outcome of both meetings, which were held in Muskoka and Toronto in Canada. For a long time, World Vision, along with a number of other NGOs, has been lobbying governments to make humanitarian concerns a priority at the meetings, and in particular that they honor previous financial commitments to alleviate global poverty.

World Vision’s special concern at these summits was child health and the distressing fact that about 24,000 children die every day from readily preventable diseases. Would the G8 and G20 stump up with the funding necessary to reduce child mortality of under 5-year-olds by two-thirds by 2015? This was, after all, one of the Millennium Development Goals set by world leaders with much fanfare in 2000.  

Well, would they? I phoned my colleague Robert Zachritz, World Vision’s director for government relations, who attended the meetings, to find out. His answer: “No.”

Robert Zachritz

It might have been a rather short conversation, except Robert went on to explain that the news was not all bad. While commitments at the G8/G20 fell far short of the estimated $24 billion required to meet the above-mentioned Millennium Development Goal, the G8, largely thanks to the leadership of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, did make some headway by committing $5 billion over the next five years to child and maternal health—something now known as the Muskoka Initiative. Additional commitments from a handful of countries outside the G8, plus commitments from the U.N. Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, added a further $2.3 billion, bringing total commitment to $7.3 billion.

Robert says the fact that child and maternal health occupied so much of the agenda is significant given that there were so many other pressing issues to discuss—the global economy, security, and the environment. He also liked the Canadian government’s publication of the Muskoka Accountability Report, which candidly assesses the G8s past performance in honoring development-related commitments. Incidentally, the gist of the 88-page report is: some progress, but could be better.

Robert sees the emphasis on tangible measurement of progress as a helpful trend. It means nations are discouraged from making fanciful commitments to unrealistic goals. They know that whatever they do commit to will be tested—and it will be noted if their actions fail to match their rhetoric.

Despite such gains, Robert regrets the summits could not have showed more heart by committing more cash. “There’s been real progress, and lives will be saved,” he says, “but it’s disappointing so many will still be dying.” 

He says it points to the continued need for NGOs to maintain the pressure at these kinds of international forums, and especially to try to get the stuttering momentum toward eliminating poverty achieved by the G8 to spill over into the newer G20 grouping.

Robert points out that the United States alone was able to find $1 trillion to combat last year’s financial crisis. In this context, finding $24 billion to save children’s lives shouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

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