Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mood of NGOs at L'Aquila Not Optimistic

L'AQUILA, Italy -- The heads of state are arriving here for the G-8 Summit in the mountains northeast of Rome --- President Obama and Chancellor Merkel are already here and President Sarkozy is arriving as I write this at 3:00 PM -- but the non-governmental organizations are mainly frustrated, angry or both with a few notable exceptions.

This morning I talked to civil society experts in most of the main areas of concern -- global health, water and sanitation, education, food security, climate change and labor -- and all but one expressed varying levels of disquiet. Only a Dutch expert in food security -- who was one of the key speakers on this issue at a civil society meeting in Rome earlier this week -- said he was "slightly optimistic" about the prospects for food at this summit.

When I asked a long-time global health advocate (who has been involved in several G-8 summits over the last several years) how he was feeling about the prospects for global health, he gave me the thumbs down. He cited his opinion that since commiting to an additional $60 billion by 2011 to fight pandemics and strengthen health systems, as agreed at the G-8 Summit in Germany in 2007 and Japan in 2008, the G-8 has not produced even one additional dollar. This point is certainly debatable but this particular advocate apparently chose not to include the Global Fund, PEPFAR or PMI in his calculations.

Steve Cockburn of End Water Poverty UK observed at how one can walk around Rome and admire ancient aqueducts and sewage systems that were providing clean water and sanitary sewage disposal 2,000 years ago, services that are available in 2009 in huge parts of the developing world. He called the current draft of the communique on water and sanitation "very disappointing" and predicted the the Millennium Development Goal for "watsan" will not be met until 2109. The last G8 in Japan committed to concrete results by the end of 2009 and when the officials saw that was not going to happen, he said, they "watered" the language down to merely making "progress" by the end of 2009.

Those fighting against climate change are equally disillusioned after seeing the latest draft of the Summit communique this morning. They characterized the situation as the European Union countries doing the right thing -- and even offering to increase their commitments to reduced emissions -- while the other members of the G-8 -- notably the U.S., Canada, Russia and Japan -- dragging their feet. Furthermore, they say the non-Europeans' recalcitrance is discouraging developing countries like China, India and Brazil from committing than they already have. They don't blame President Obama for this but say his feet are tied by Congress.

Those of us who care about global health (in which we include water and sanitation) are waiting with bated breath to see the final communique on those two issues. We are hearing two rumors on its release -- either this afternoon or on Friday. I will pass along the information here as soon as it becomes available.

The Global Health Council view of the current language in the communique on global health is positive: We like the language on the need to strengthen health systems, the call for a comprehensive and integrated approach, the emphasis on maternal and child health and on sexual and reproductive health which, as I noted in my previous post, is back in the G-8 communique after eight years in the wilderness during the Bush Administration.

In my three days in Italy, I have heard some amazing statistics: One of the most amazing and disconcerting is this provided by Angela McClellan of Transparency International in Berlin: The financial industry has received almost 10 times more in bailout money in the last year than poor countries have received in aid in the last 49 years (source: UN Millennium Campaign).

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