• Free State Grain Silos

    Free State Grain Silos
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  • Drying Fish, Lake Chilwa, Malawi

  • G8 Summit 2008: All Talk, Zero Walk

    The world, both rich and poor countries, is clearly facing multiple crises. Unfortunately it is poor people who suffer the most, suffering immensely from food price increases. We expected this year’s G8 summit to reflect the gravity and urgency of the situation globally, but more so in Africa. Rather we got more and more talk and zero practical, measurable and tangible commitments with set timelines.

    The Group of Eight (G8) summit has come and like other previous summits gone. A lot of anticipation preceded this year’ summit against a backdrop of an escalation of the usual problems and new challenges bedeviling the world, particularly the African continent.

    Today, our world communities are confronting the worst food crisis in 45 years. Food prices have tripled in the last three years. The World Bank estimates that 100 million people are falling deeper into poverty as prices for basic staples that feed the world ie wheat, rice, and corn, have risen by a staggering 83 percent. Coupled with the existing challenges that Africa faces, it is clear that our continent is disproportionately affected. 

    The world is also faced with escalating oil prices, which are driven by market forces which unfortunately do not take into cognisance the development aspect and the multi faceted effects of these increases on the poor. Poor people are hence hardest hit by global oil prices, which have also contributed to the dramatic rise in food prices.

    Climate change represents a nightmare globally but it presents a much more precarious scenario for the future of the people of the world's poorest continent. Global warming has had its consequences on the change in weather patterns of the world. The consequence already has been dramatic, including declines in rainfall and a fall in crop yields that could make previous famines look like small tragedies. Desertification is another result and it is accelerating in Africa, specifically around the Sahara. There are already severe water shortages in some parts of the African continent and too much water which has killed or displaced people in other parts. These extreme weather patterns have undoubtedly worsened the African situation.

    Given these scenarios which threaten to aggravate an already desperate situation on the continent, African Monitor had expectations that the summit of the group of the most industrialised and rich nations of the world would reflect the gravity and urgency of dealing with these issues, much more than before. I believe we were justified to have high hopes. I know that we shared this eagerness with other people and entities who are concerned about the state of affairs, particularly in Africa. It is clear that the world economic situation has restricted the ambitions of this G8 but the simple fact remains that it is not the money but the will that matters. The same will that drove the political contract of deep seriousness in Gleneagles in 2005 is still needed today, but this time it has to be twinned with radical action.

    Among the many issues that we were looking forward to, we expected that the G8 would recognise that they are failing to meet the promised aid levels to Africa. We predicted that all G8 countries would reaffirm their commitment to the Gleneagles pledges, particularly on increasing ODA levels by increasing aid to $50 billion a year by 2010, with half of that going to Africa itself and to cancel the debt of the most heavily indebted poor nations. We expected an undertaking to take concrete steps with timelines by the G8 countries.

    Last month, a report by the Africa Progress Panel, a group set up to monitor implementation of the Gleneagles plan, said that under current spending the G8 will fall $40bn short of its target. The report was rebutted by Japan's foreign ministry a day before the summit started, which denied the G8 was failing to deliver on its promises. It is disappointing that some G8 members would be in denial when evidence that a lot needs to be done is clear. Notably, collectively, the G8 has delivered just $3 billion of the $25 billion that was pledged to Africa in 2005.

    As it is, our expectations were largely not met! Rather, Africa’s problems were eclipsed by the Zimbabwe issue. There is nothing wrong about focusing attention on Zimbabwe - there is certainly a need to be concerned. However, to allow one country’s problems to take precedence over the rest of the continent, given the gravity of problems in Africa and the vastness of the continent was a big disappointment.
    We applaud the fact that the leaders of the G8 discussed development in Africa, with President Bush reiterating his call for G8 accountability. It is also plausible that in this spirit of accountability, the G8 nations have released reports on health and anticorruption to demonstrate progress toward fulfilling past G8 commitments. We note that the G8 leaders also committed to realistic, measurable commitments on health worker training, neglected tropical diseases and long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets. Similar reports should also be released on ODA to Africa, including budgetary commitments towards development in Africa (and this should be new money as opposed to money that was committed in the past).

    However, the G8 summit fell short of offering practical steps to work towards improving global food security by not addressing urgent needs for food while launching mid-term and long-term targets to promote sound policies and double food production in key African countries.  Practical undertakings to invest in agricultural production and to prioritise Africa in this endeavor, including setting up an emergency fund to avert the global food crisis, could have been one of the tangible steps by the G8. African Monitor research  shows that donors are contributing the least to agricultural production in Africa. The G8 could have encouraged a policy shift, given the food crisis. There could have been practical steps committed to in order to ensure that unfair trade practices, for example agricultural subsidies, do not hinder Africa’s agricultural development, especially in light of the food crisis. Trade justice issues were also downplayed at this year’s summit and yet they shape today’s tilted world in which systems and policies in place ensure that the poor countries are doomed to be perpetually dependent and become poorer.

    We have seven years left before the deadline to meet eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2000. The G8 renewed their commitment to the MDGs while acknowledging in its statement that significant challenges remain at the mid-point to those goals despite some progress. The group expressed its determination to honour in full their commitments to fight infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and polio, and work towards the goal of universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care by 2010. Acknowledging that there is need to upscale is not enough. The G8 needed the political guts to come up with specific measurable practical commitments with timelines to help particularly Africa meet its MDGs.

    Although the G8 pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050, each country was left to pursue its own path in tackling pollution blamed for global warming. The verbal commitments therefore are non-binding and this sounds nothing more than mere talk. There was need for a clear, practical adaptation plan for Africa, supported by these countries in the form of an African emergency fund for climate change issues. Without practical commitments, the fear is that “at this rate, by 2050 the world will be cooked and the G8 leaders will be long forgotten,” as Oxfam policy adviser Antonio Hill was quoted saying in a statement. The US, the world's largest economy, has been the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, trailed closely by China. Russia and India also rank among the globe's biggest polluters. While we recognise the call for talks to draw up a successor to the Kyoto protocol which expires in 2012 this sounds like delaying tactics by the industrialised countries on an issue that is urgent, particularly given the US failure to commit to and implement the Kyoto protocol.

    One can therefore be excused for concluding that this year’s 8 summit was a talk shop especially on issues where there was just acknowledgements that there are problems without measurable practical commitments undertaken to address the issues. It sounds as if G8 members were instead trying to avoid a pledge made at last year's summit in Germany to meet the Gleneagles goals.

    The world, both rich and poor countries, is clearly facing multiple crises. Unfortunately it is poor people who suffer the most, suffering immensely from food price increases. We expected this year’s G8 summit to reflect the gravity and urgency of the situation globally, but more so in Africa. Rather we got more and more talk and zero practical, measurable and tangible commitments with set timelines.

  • From Poverty to Power

    From Poverty to Power is a major new book from Oxfam International that argues that ending the scourges of extreme poverty, inequality, and threatened environmental collapse is the greatest global challenge of the twenty-first century. 

    Authored by Duncan Green, the book points out that the best way to tackle them is through a combination of active citizens and effective nation states.  Why active citizenship? Because people living in poverty must have a voice in deciding their own destiny, fighting for rights and justice in their own society, and holding states and the private sector to account.

    For more information, click here

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