Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Day 3: It ain't over 'til it's over

1540 GMT

Most toilets flush in the key of E Flat. Allegedly. I don't know who worked that out. Slow day at the office? And obviously that might not apply in Japan, where (as mentioned already) toilets come with a full orchestral background.

So what's the final verdict? And what's next?

As always with the G8 it's a mixed bag: a bemusing combination of warm words, cold hearts, closed wallets and promised lands. Not everything you want but still just enough to hold out hope that serious progress is just around the corner, just as long as we can pin them down once and for all... Maybe its like nailing jelly to the wall - it will cause a mess, people will be annoyed, it won't work out as you hoped, but something will stick.

Anyway, enough of the rubbish metaphors. Of course, we didn't get everything we wanted - no global action plan, no new money, no end to the crisis in sight just yet.

But does that mean the effort wasn't worth it, and does that mean we should all give up? Of course not. This last week we have seen some genuine progress, even if it's quite clearly not enough. Sanitation and water has been discussed at the top-table for the first time in years, and the commitments could - maybe, if we follow it up right - be the start of a process that puts sanitation and water at the centre of efforts to boost health and combat poverty.

Whilst we don't have a solution to the sanitation crisis this week, we do have a better platform from which to go forward - more commitments, greater recognition, more allies and the promise of a process that starts now, stops off at the UN in September, reports at the G8 in Italy next year, and continues onwards.

We have also built critical momentum. Leaders across Africa and Asia have promised to step up efforts to tackle the sanitation crisis, and G8 leaders now have too. And there is a growing public movement backing this up - 940,000 of you taking action in support of the campaign so far. There is no doubt that this made a difference, no doubt it has to continue.

And media too - reports in the BBC, Financial Times, Guardian, Independent, Lancet, Ghanaian Times, and many more show the silence on sanitation is finally being broken.

And what's next? More work, more campaigning, more toilet puns. Obviously. This G8 has not been flushed with success, we're still waiting for them to spend a penny (or more), but there is no doubt that we're on a (toilet) roll...

Looking forward we have a couple of key moments ahead, not least at the UN in September. This will be when all the world's leaders - not just those privileged enough to eat caviar and sea-urchin in Japan - will gather to agree measures to try and save the Millennium Development Goals.

This is crucial, and getting a focus on sanitation here could be the next small victory on the way to one day ending the sanitation crisis.

It shouldn't be this hard for everyone to have access to a safe toilet, shouldn't be so difficult to prevent over 2 million kids dying each year from such preventable causes, but for some reason it is. And it's our job to convince them.

G8 Day 3: Kimono folding extravaganza as major economies leave 1.7bn people behind

1400 GMT

I know you've all been sitting on your toilet seats waiting for this next update. Supposedly the average person spends 3 years of their life going to the loo, so dont feel too bad. Just wash your hands, please.

What happened on day 3? The G8 invited some more pals along - leaders of the 8 'major economies'* joined messrs. Bush et al to discuss climate change and the world economy. Astonishingly, these 8 countries represent countries where over two-thirds of the world's population who lack safe sanitation live - over 1.7bn people. A reminder both that poor sanitation is not just an African issue, and that economic growth and a burgeoning middle class does not necessarily equate to social improvements for all.

Day 3 was again dominated by the world economy, Zimbabwe and climate change - very much the leading stories of the summit alongside the food crisis.

And for light entertainment (and a poor advert for gender equality) there was the G8 wives (and husband) learning to fold kimonos while their husbands (and wife) sort the world out. Sort of.

*Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

G8 leave 2.6 billion people with nowhere to go

1200 GMT

And here it is, the G8 statement on Africa and Development. The collective wisdom and energy of the 7 most powerful men - and the world’s most powerful woman - on the continent’s development.

And what does it say?

Not a lot. Certainly not enough to satisfy the hundreds of thousands of campaigners who demanded a global action plan to provide sanitation and water for all. And certainly not enough for the 2.6 billion people around the world who have no safe place to go to the toilet.

To be fair, there are some positives – sanitation and water have been discussed at the top table for the first time in 5 years. They recognised it as central to improving health and development, acknowledged the need to accelerate efforts to meet the millennium development goals and started a process which will be reviewed at next year’s G8.

But really, lets not get too excited. Imagine if you were one of the world’s most powerful people (maybe you are, if so call me). Imagine you were discussing ways to stop kids dying with your 7 extremely powerful pals. Imagine you knew that poor sanitation probably kills more children every year than any other cause. What would you do?

• Issue a statement that provides almost no concrete commitments – and no money - to deliver more taps and toilets to the world’s poor?

• Set up a working group to report in 1 year (by which time 2.4 million children will have died from poor sanitation), based on implementing a failed plan agreed 5 years ago?

• Actively veto suggestions made by your powerful friends that might actually improve the health of 40% of world’s population?

If last night you ate a meal with 18-24 dishes (depending on which paper you read) then you might well have done all of the above.

In many ways we’ve forward since the 2007 G8, when neither water nor sanitation got a look in. We have a platform to go forward to the UN meeting in September. But is this pace of change, this level of ambiguity, this lack of money really acceptable to someone living in a slum next an open sewer, sharing 1 insanitary toilet with hundreds of other people?

Messrs Brown, Burlosconi, Bush, Fukuda, Harper, Merkel, Medvedev and Sarkozy: what do you think?

And whilst we’re at it, leaders of Africa: is this what you were looking for?

For the official response, read the End Water Poverty press release

Read the G8 communique on Africa and development

More toilet trivia while we're waiting...

Did you know that the typical Japanese toilet comes complete with musical background, seat warmer and automatic deodoriser? It's true, and you can pay over $5000 for a top of the range one. And currently under development is a one that takes samples from your urine to test blood sugar levels, calculate your bodymass index and then automatically email your doctor through fibre optic broadband. Seriously.

And at the same time over 40% of the world's population have no access to any toilet at all, putting them at huge risk of sickness and disease and killing up to 2.4 million children every year.

Doesn't sound quite right does it...

Day 2 at the G8

0630 GMT

Before the whole G8 business, ponder this: 1 month ago NASA spent $450m launching a space mission in order to fix broken toilet on the International Space Station. It spends less than 4 times this amount on sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa...

Back on earth, at the G8 summit, coverage of yesterday's outreach with African countries focused largely on Zimbabwe, although water and sanitation was raised alongside the food crisis as priority areas by the African leaders. Other hot topics around the summit appear to be the food crisis, oil prices, the state of the world economy, climate change and fears of backtracking on previous aid and HIV commitments.

(as i write this the documents on the world economy have been released)

As we get closer to the main announcement on Africa - probably happening late this afternoon (Japan time) - it has become increasingly clear how negotiations have watered down proposals on tackling the water and sanitation crisis. Comparing leaked drafts of the G8 communique dated before and after key negotiation meeting shows how proposals to establish an annual review and meeting to drive global progress were vetoed.

We'll have to see what comes out in the end but brace yourselves for ambiguity. On the one hand there will be positive recognition of the issue's importance and some hope for future processes. But on the other, don't expect a detailed action plan to end the crisis once and for all - or access to the G8 bank account - just yet... I'm more likely to be flying to the moon to fix a toilet.

Monday, 7 July 2008

The G8 Day 1


Welcome to my End Water Poverty G8 blog, coming straight at you from rain-soaked Hokkaido, where I will be reporting back on the global circus that is the G8 summit. As 7 men and 1 woman luxuriate by Lake Toyako, putting the world to rights, deciding the fate of billions of people across the world, this intrepid but bleary-eyed correspondent will endeavour to keep you informed and updated.

7th July 0600 GMT, Hokkaido, Japan

The G8 officially kicks off today, with its day of 'African outreach' - whereby heads of 8 African states are invited to join the party. Whilst there will be a drip feed of news and rumour, as as a press conference, the bigger statements on Africa, climate change and the world economy are expected on Tuesday and Wednesday.

So as the jamboree starts, what do we expect to happen? A lot of words and back-slapping for sure. But concrete action to deliver for the 40% of the world's population who have no access to safe sanitation? Hmmm not if current rumours and intelligence are anything to go by...

Newly leaked drafts of the G8 communique show how commitments have been watered down in negotiations, with few commitments and even fewer measurable actions.

So clearly there is quite a fight ahead at this summit and beyond to get agreement on a genuinely ambitious global plan of action on sanitation and water, but at least now we have made it to the battlefield...

In other news, WaterAid launched a new report today, detailing evidence showing that poor sanitation may be the biggest killer children in the world today. Accounting for a quarter of all child deaths, the lack of a safe place to go the toiled could be killing 2.4 million children every year.

So a question for Frau Merkel, Monsieur Sarkozy and friends - which of you are blocking measures to stop this public health scandal, and what are you thinking?

For more information about End Water Poverty, visit

Thursday, 3 July 2008

End Water Poverty to blog from Japan

End Water Poverty campaign coordinator Steve Cockburn will be writing a daily blog live from the G8 meeting in Japan. You can read his first entry on Monday 7 July.

As hosts of the 2008 G8 Summit, the Government of Japan have led the G8 by committing to putting water and sanitation on the summit agenda - a step warmly welcomed by End Water Poverty campaigners. Yet fears remain that this crucial opportunity may be lost if leaders fail to take concerted action.

End Water Poverty are calling on leaders to agree a global action plan on water and sanitation, including a commitment that every country will have enough money to deliver the 'taps and toilets' needed to provide life and dignity to their citizens.

Steve Cockburn (pictured, right) will be sending daily reports from the Summit in Japan, so do come back next week to find out whether the demands of the End Water Poverty coalition are addressed at the Summit.

Find out more about End Water Poverty here