Saturday, 17 April 2010

Water, sanitation and health: will the G8 finally get it?

2010 is the year by which the G8 should have delivered an extra $50bn of international aid. It’s also the date by when they promised to achieve universal access to HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care services.

Given G8 history, few people will be surprised to learn they have fallen short of these targets. A recent OECD Report outlined a gap of $18bn, while less than half of those in need of HIV treatment are receiving it. Yet we also know our campaigning has not been in vain – aid is up 30% since 2004, and $88bn of poor country debts have been cancelled, showing our efforts have certainly not been in vain.

Such was the context for a meeting in Vancouver this between anti-poverty campaigners, including End Water Poverty, and the G8 ‘sherpas’ (chief negotiatiors).

This year the summit will be held Canada, allegedly at a venue where the swarms of mosquitoes will make Europe’s volcanic ash look benign. The big issues on the table it seems are accountability (yes, G8 accountability!) and a new package to accelerate efforts to improve the health of mothers and children.

Our challenge is two-fold. First, we need to make sure that they recognise the enormous impact of water and sanitation on child health – the World Health Organisation says it could prevent 2.2 million child deaths every year by tackling common causes of mortality such as diahrroea and malnutrition. Encouragingly, the sherpas claimed to agree, but have not agreed any measures to build on it.

And so secondly we need to provide the ideas that they can use, and then hold them to account to ensure that they stop double counting money, stop shamefully failing to keep their commitments to the world’s poor.

No easy task, but next week (assuming no more volcanic eruptions) is the first ever High-Level Meeting on Sanitation and Water where we hope to see key agreements to increase support to the issue from governments across all continents, and a new framework to hold people to account. Success in this should provide the G8 the push they need – if we can push it strongly enough.

So we’ll be there, representing the views of civil society across the world and the voices of the tens of thousands of people who took part in the World’s Longest Toilet Queue. And we’ll report back on this blog, so do keep reading.

One final thought that struck me this week was this. Vancouver is one of the richest and most prosperous cities in the world – a beautiful place that recently hosted the Winter Olympics and is blessed with immense natural beauty and resource. Yet, listening to local poverty activists and representatives from ‘First Nation’ indigenous groups, there is a tolerance of poverty, inequality and exclusion here too that should shame us. Same battle, different continent. Read about the ‘Poverty Olympics’ for more.

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