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.

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