Monday, 13 July 2009

G8: Time to save others to save yourself

The circus is over and the clowns have returned home. A few days reflection (largely spent sleeping) on the G8 summit, and how does it look? What does it mean for our campaigning efforts, and for the G8 itself?

Well, the outcome still looks the same, and a little too true to form. Even where progress was supposed to have been made, for example in climate change and tackling hunger, it is so obscured by smoke and mirrors that noone knows whether it is genuine.

On other areas, like water and sanitation, even the G8 struggled to say they had done much. I even read officials being quoted as saying it was a major step forward that such a “controversial” issue was being discussed at the G8 at all.

The lack of such basic things as taps and toilets cause 30% of all child deaths, so seems to me to be about as controversial as breathing.

Was it all doom and gloom? Well there were a few personal highlights outside the formal business. Berlusconi’s interview with Bob Geldof was simply extraordinary and well worth a read. Obama’s alleged faux pas at the Junior 8 caused a real stir (only later shown to be a camera trick). End Water Poverty rep Khumbuzile’s cornering of South African President Jacob Zuma showed us how brlliant lobbying is done. And the best campaign slogan around – ‘Yes, we camp’, used by the homeless of L’Aquila to highlight their plight following April’s tragic earthquake.

And in the formal business, perhaps if we are extremely generous we can see something. The political declaration to make progress on a partnership with African governments by November 2009 might provide a window of opportunity for something more concrete. Of course, this is flawed, watered down and vacuous in so many ways already discussed. But it is a renewed mandate that we could try and exploit to finally, maybe get somewhere.

What does it mean for our campaigning? It means we keep going. Change takes time – far too much time, of course – but in 2 years we have seen our issue rise from nowhere on the international agenda, to one of much greater prominence, even if that is yet to translate into firm action as yet.

Having expectations frustrated is the first step to having them realised – we are in a process of building a mandate for change and this G8 was only one small point on the way. We are right to be annoyed, but not to shrug our shoulders and give up. We’ve made a good deal of progress, especially in countries outside of the G8 and also with some of the G8’s more progressive members.

What is obvious is that we have to keep showing how failure to act on water and sanitation is undermining the broader fight against poverty, ill-health and malnutrition – areas where political will appears higher, but which cannot progress without taking a more comprehensive approach that includes taps and toilets. No good saving a child of malaria if they are going to die of diahrroea.

We have two clear opportunities to work towards. November sees Africa Water Week, when the G8 promise to announce progress on their partnership, as well as where countries and institutions involved with the Global Framework for Action – an initiative strongly championed by End Water Poverty – meet. We need these to come together and get working for real.

And then April 2010 is when UNICEF are convening political leaders for a global high-level meeting on water and sanitation as part of the Global Framework initiative mentioned above. This is aimed at bringing real political focus on this issue for once, as opposed to having it only featured on the agenda as ‘Any Other Business’. So the next 9 months leading up to then is key to ensuring it actually does something.

And what next for the G8 itself? The world’s poor are undoubtedly the biggest losers from this G8 summit, but I think the G8 should have cause for concern too.

In a fast-changing world with challenges that go well beyond the reach of just 8 countries, their role is questioned as never before, with groupings like the G20 in the ascendancy. And they are not doing themselves any favours.

By failing to act in a way that shows any solidarity, honesty or effectiveness – and by failing to deliver on its promises to the poor – the G8 are undermining their own claims to global leadership. Perhaps a conclusion worth considering is that in order to save themselves, they need first to keep their word to save others.

Friday, 10 July 2009

In one end, out the other

That’s it. Over. Finito. Another year, another G8, another farce.

As you can see from the press releases of other NGOs, noone was too happy about it.

And nor were we, as you can see from our press release today. The joint G8-Africa statement contained nothing new, nothing concrete, nothing of worth to a community lacking access to clean water or sanitation. Nothing that could be possibly described as the “enhanced implementation plan” promised at last year’s summit.

Nothing to tackle a crisis that is responsible for 30% of child deaths.

I don’t know how they could have sat through those meetings with African leaders and not feel embarrassed and ashamed.

I never understand how you can so much power and never bother to use it for good.

The big news today was a pledge of $20bn to fight hunger for the 1 billion people without enough to eat. Hugely important, but as with every G8 deal noone knows where the money is going to come from, or if it really will. Let’s hope this time it is different.

Either way, fighting hunger – as crucial as this is – without also providing clean water and sanitation is akin to a fish riding a bicycle (I wasn’t allowed to put this in the press release so I am putting it here...). Its not going to go as far as you'd like when 50% of child deaths from malnutrition are caused by diahrroea.

More thoughtful analysis soon as I'm too knackered not to be a grumpy old man.

But one quick upbeat note for now - our spokesperson from South Africa, Khumbuzile Zuma, has done a great job highlighting our disappointment to the press.

Interviews with Italian newspapers, BBC, Sky, Reuters, Voice of America, Nile TV and others, as well as being a GCAP spokesperson, all helped to shape the media reaction to the summit. I have not met a journalist yet who is impressed with the outcomes.

And not only that, she did the best bit of lobbying I’ve seen in a while by hijacking President’s press conference (Jacob Zuma, no relation…). After demanding South African leader step up to the plate, and do more on water and sanitation, she got a commitment to do so, a follow up meeting, and even a hug…

See a couple of photos and video here

Great work, and many thanks to the Mvula Trust for her participation.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Surge in aid to Iraq masks weak G8 action on water and sanitation

Increased aid for water and sanitation driven by politics not need

Following a G8 statement released late last night, End Water Poverty reveals that reported increases in aid for water and sanitation since 2002 have been dominated by reconstruction efforts in Iraq, and other regions of political and economic interest, rather than to reaching poor communities across Africa and South Asia.

The surge in funding to Iraq has masked the fact that the G8 have failed to make sufficient investments in water and sanitation services, failing to tackle a crisis that kills 4,000 children every day.

Oliver Cumming, from WaterAid, member of the End Water Poverty campaign, said:

“It is Iraq, not Africa, that has received the bulk of increased funding for water and sanitation - something that is cold comfort for the poorest people in the world who are still waiting for significant action by the G8. The scandalous result of the G8’s priorities is the continuation of a crisis that kills 4,000 children every day. “

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the two regions of most critical need, together receive just 30% of G8 funding for water - significantly less than in 2003 when the G8 launched its Water Action Plan for Africa at the Evian Summit.

According to OECD, in 2005 and 2006 more aid went to Iraq for water and sanitation than for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa whilst Malaysia – where 99% of people have access to clean water - receives 26 times more per head than Congo, Angola or Togo.

Water and sanitation was meant to be a centrepiece of this year’s summit, but yesterday’s communiqué failed to deliver a concrete deal. Tomorrow, G8 leaders are to sign a joint declaration with the African Union outlining a partnership to further implement the Evian Plan. Despite promises, however, few tangible commitments are expected.

Khumbuzile Zuma, South African spokesperson for End Water Poverty said:

“Action to provide water and sanitation in Africa is long overdue, but as the figures behind this report show, we cannot trust that words will be enough. In 2003 we were promised action to deliver these most basic services in Africa, but we are still waiting while the destination of extra money is driven by politics and not need.

So far, all we have seen at this summit are delays and broken promises. Tomorrow, leaders from both Africa and the G8 simply must deliver decisive action. Otherwise it will mean nothing to those who have lost children, or who have been denied an education, because they cannot drink clean water or use a safe toilet.” 


Oliver Cumming and Khumbuzile Zuma are both at the G8 Summit and available for interview. For all media requests contact Chloe Irvine +44 75 1494 1577 OR +44 777 1654 544 OR Steve Cockburn +44 79 2008 0855 (all based in L’Aquila) 

Could food poisoning spark the Road to Damascus?

As the G8 leaders tucked in to their stately dinner and discussed action on Iran, Burma, piracy and other delights we in the media centre tucked into our cold pasta and stale bread to have a good old moan about Berlusconi and chums.

Given the chequered history of the G8, and the apparent reluctance of richer countries to stand in solidarity with poorer ones as the global recession hits, yesterday’s announcements generally came as no great surprise. Once again the G8 flattered to deceive, and failed to provide the sort of emergency response poorer countries need to get through an economic crisis not of their making. Nor, as you see from our press release in our previous blog, did they maintain their promise to deliver an "enhanced implementation plan" to drive progress in achieving water and sanitation for all. All they could do was give themselves another 6 months to think about it.

That is not to say a political commitment to work in partnership with African Governments is not important. It is. But this was essentially what happened last year – this year was supposed to be about action and about delivery for communities who need to drink clean water, not vague promises. 

A further statement – made jointly with African leaders – is due tomorrow, to outline their common desire for a partnership. We shall see if further tangible commitments are given in this statement, and plead for a sudden bout of sense.

What could cause that sudden flash of inspiration, what could be that Road to Damascus moment that convinces the 8 most powerful people in the world that it was time to act for the 2.5 billion people who have no access to a safe toilet  and the 900m people without clean water?

Popular support, media focus, peer pressure, and a suddent emergence of conscience would all surely help. Or a nasty bout of diahhroea perhaps, especially if coupled with having to use the not-so-sanitary portaloos on offer to media and NGOs. Though I imagine they have nicer ones. Oh, and the water was cut off yesterday too. Though I imagine they have nice bottles of Evian to see them through…

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

G8 on poverty and water: No big deal

Watered down promises and moving targets, poor to count cost of G8 failure

Global campaign group End Water Poverty slammed the G8 failure to stand by poor communities in hard times as they released their official summit communiqué.

Among a host of failures at the Summit, the G8 have broken last year’s promise to finally tackle the global water and sanitation crisis. Since the G8 last met in Hokkaido, over 1.4 million children have died from diarrhoea as a result of a lack safe water and toilets - a scandalous human cost that is set to continue after today’s neglect and inaction.

Khumbuzile Zuma, a South African spokesperson for End Water Poverty said,
"This year's G8 has confirmed many people's worst fears that so  many of the world's richest countries are prepared to run away from their commitments to the poor, such as those on aid and safe drinking water, at exactly the time they are needed most.”

“This year they had finally promised to tackle the global water and sanitation crisis that is responsible for almost 30% of all child deaths, but in reality nothing has been done that will make a difference to the lives of people in Africa. The best they could do was give themselves another six months to think about it.”

“How long must Africa wait for the right to use a safe toilet and drink clean water? Without addressing this we will never make the progress needed on ending hunger, reducing child deaths or getting children into school."

An “enhanced implementation plan” to deliver water and sanitation in Africa was meant to be a centerpiece of this week’s Summit, but instead the G8 merely announced they would aim to “make progress” on a partnership with African governments by the end of the year. Draft documents in the run up to the summit show just how much ambition has been watered down, and the final proposal contains no specific actions or commitments.

Oliver Cumming from WaterAid, a key supporter of End Water Poverty said:

“It is shocking that the deaths of 1.4 million children do not warrant immediate action from the G8. But it is truly scandalous that in the year they committed to address the water and sanitation crisis they have abandoned people in poor countries to continued indignity, poverty and ill-health.”

Paul Cook from Tearfund a key supporter of End Water Poverty added

“How many of these leaders would have been happy to come here if there were no toilet facilities or drinking water?”

End Water Poverty also warned leaders that their neglect of water and sanitation would have serious consequences for any other development initiatives announced at the summit including health, education and agriculture.


Notes to editors

Oliver Cumming and Khumbuzile Zuma are both at the G8 Summit and available for interview. for For all media requests contact Chloe Irvine +44 75 1494 1577 OR +44 777 1654 544 (based in L’Aquila) OR Steve Cockburn +44 79 2008 0855 

Lurking around the toilets...

After a long trip to L’Aquila, a surreal night in a half built ‘athletes village’, and police escort to the summit, Day 1 of the G8 has begun.

Or kind of. It has been a day of waiting for the G8 leaders to arrive like blushing brides, walk down a red carpet one by one and be courted by their proud host, Senor Berlusconi.

But possibly the most hectic waiting possible – NGOs flying round left, right and centre to corner journalists and tell their story, with impromptu press conferences and bribery with espressos. Some guerilla action from us has plastered all the G8 toilets with a poster highlighting the campaign, and got me some very funny looks as I hover from cubicle to cubicle…

The main anouncements are due soon. After discussing the world economy (done and dusted in an hour or so), leaders are now talking about ‘global issues’ (again, sorted in about an hour). The communiques should be released soon and everyone has their releases at the ready in eager anticipation…

Watch this space (or twitter for quicker reaction) to see if the water announcement will be done today (it may not be until African leaders arrive on Friday, noone seems to know…), what it will say, and what we think of it. We dont expect to be overwhelmed, but maybe somewhere those lovely G8 folk will surprise us.

Other crucial news. Carla Bruni, wife of President Sarkozy, is not attending the G8 wives' trip to Rome. Perhaps last year's kimono-folding extravaganza was just too much. Maybe, like Chancellor Merkel's husband, she's not too fond of stroking kittens while their spouses sort out the world (in an hour). Vive l'égalité!


Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Pope demands action on eve of G8 as campaigners sweat it out

A short note while trying to escape the heat, humidity and tourists in a hectic Rome. Today sees NGOs and media travel out to L’Aquila to prepare for the arrival of G8 leaders tomorrow.

As you may know, L’Aquila suffered a tragic earthquake in April this year, killing 300 people and making 40,000 people homeless. Many are still living there in makeshift accommodation with basic facilities, in the midst of the rubble, while the clear up and rebuilding takes place.

The location of the summit was a controversial one. This is not only because it spolied the holiday plans of those looking forward to working at the previously chosen location - a luxury island resort near Sicily - but more importantly some believed it was playing politics with people’s lives, and also putting G8 leaders at risk. Tremors were felt in the area as recently as this weekend, and you can't imagine Obama's people being too delighted about that…

Whether a welcome act of solidarity with people struggling to recover from disaster or a political charade is your own judgement, but it has caused enough alarm in some quarters to provoke suggestions that Italy should be expelled from the G8 itself. Step up Spain, some are saying - probably not the reaction Mr Berlusconi was hoping for…

Other news while we wait for things to kick off ?

The Pope released a statement calling on the G8 leaders to listen to the voices of Africa and to stand by the poor.

Bob Geldof undertook an extraordinary interview with Berlusconi, berating him for stealing food from the mouths of the starving, while the Italian Prime Minister claimed he would keep his promises if he could, but it was out of his hands…

The UK Government claimed it would push the G8 to keep its aid promises as it announced its new strategy on international development (though surely they could push the water and sanitation part more strongly too...).

And there was time for another GCAP photo stunt in sunny and stunning Piazza del Popolo, calling on the Italian public and media to ‘Press the G8’.

Now off on an undoubtedly very sweaty bus journey…

Monday, 6 July 2009

G8 can't fight poverty without water and sanitation

Today we launched an appeal in the press warning that the G8 leaders will fail to keep their promises to fight poverty, and undermine their initiatives on combating related isues like the food crisis, unless they fulfil their commitments to tackle access to water and sanitation.

This is the same argument I have been making at the G8 Alternative Summit today. When a lack of water and sanitation is responsible for 30% of child deaths, 443 million missing school days each year, and 5% of GDP lost in Africa, its a no-brainer that the G8 just can’t claim to be serious about eliminating poverty if they fail to tackle this issue.

At last year’s G8 they claimed action would be taken this year. Meaningless on the ground, and too late for millions, but at least a mandate to act this week. Quite simply, they have to do this. Just like they have to meet their promises on health, education and aid. And just like they must not use the economic crisis as an excuse to abandon their commitments to the developing world, at the very time those commitments are needed more than ever.

But worryingly, the Italian Government seems to be sticking to its guns about slashing its budget for international cooperation by 56%. Hard to see where leadership is coming from here…

So maybe a bit of an uphill battle ahead but campaigners are doing their best to be heard and hold leaders to account. A couple of days ago campaign actions taken all over the world to support End Water Poverty reached over 1 million in two years. And just last week GCAP Italy presented over 1.5 million petitions to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

And a bit of light-hearted fun too. Oxfam had a G8 toga party to highlight what these little Emperors and Empress need to do on climate and development. Don't they look regal.

G8 2009: What have the Romans ever done for us ?

Welcome to my first post from a very sweaty Rome, where NGOs are gearing up at the G8 ‘Alternative Summit’, getting ready to try and hold G8 leaders to account.

Its wonderful and tragic to blog from Rome a few days before the 8 most powerful people in the world (David Beckham doesn’t count) gather to decide the fate of billions across the world.

Wonderful not just because of the outrageously stylish people buzzing around with ice creams and man-bags, but becuase if you are vaguely obsessed with sanitation and water facilities you get to wander round a city that brought water and sanitation to Europe.

Tragic though because as you see the ruins of aquaducts and sewers that served Romans around 2000 years ago, you realise how basic these things are, and how unconscienable it is that these could exist so long ago but are still denied to about 40% of the world’s population today.

This week I’ll be reporting back on the highs and lows of the G8 Summit and giving some quick analysis on the outcomes. I’ll also undoubtedly be making major spelling mistakes, poor puns, and unwittingly reinforcing insulting stereotpes. So please keep reading….

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