Toronto, July 2010

Zilia Castrillon

I was one of the few Latin American persons in the Alternative Media Center during the G20 summit in Toronto in June.  I exchanged information and perspectives with different Canadians and a few International NGOs about their campaigns and expectations.  With  “special” accreditation that segregated us from the mainstream media in a governmental move that the South African CEO of Greenpeace International and co-chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty called “media apartheid”, our work was particularly difficult. One positive aspect is that we were able to hear NGOs’ initial reactions to the announcements and official press releases.  However, one of the negative aspects is the fact that more than 4,000 journalists from all over the world weren’t able to have any access to heads of states, ministers or country delegations unlike at the G8 in L’Aquila, Italy where civil society representatives were present in press briefings with top officials. Only a few journalists had access to these officials and, I guess, they are the ones who have not been able to unravel and convey the real results of the summit in Canada and previous summits.  NOW magazine of Toronto said that reporters had an incentive to provide favorable coverage if they wanted to be invited back to cover future summits.

The press has a huge responsibility to hold countries accountable and to be sure that people retain a collective memory of the actual events of the summit.  For instance, a memory should be kept of what happened concerning security measures and costs for the G8/G20 summits that surpassed $1 billion dollars, almost the same contribution the Canadian government promised to deliver for maternal and child care in the Global South. Part of the money for security was directed to the deployment of 20,000 police officers whose abuses during the demonstrations caused an international outcry among civil rights groups. The costs included the construction of a six-kilometer fence to protect Summit leaders and ministers that gathered at the Metro Convention Center where only the privileged had access.

Also a collective memory should hold the richest countries accountable for their promises on the prevention of HIV and care for those infected. In 2005 during the Gleneagles Summit those countries promised universal access to medical treatment with respect to HIV/AIDS by 2010. Today more than half of the 33 million people living with HIV are without therapy. Most of these are children and women.

In Gleneagles, Scotland, the G8 countries committed to add US$50 billion in official development assistance (ODA), a promise that have fallen short by US$15 billion due to “insufficient political will, changed political leadership, and deep recession”, according to a document cited by the journal the Lancet.

“What is the point if they don’t look up the evaluation and do something to keep the promises”, said Dennis Howlett, Coordinator for the coalition “Make Poverty History” referring to the accountability mechanism included by the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the so called Muskoka Initiative to ensure the goals of the G8 countries will be fulfilled.

Oxfam has criticized the leaders for “their failure to deliver on their promises and for trying to divert attention by cobbling together a small initiative for maternal and child health”.

Despite the Harper government’s proposal on maternal health and the additional US $5 billion over the next five years added by the rest of G8 countries, the NGO community fears that the money committed to maternal health will be taken from other areas such as food security and education.

Holistic approach to rural development and food security

Debates on food security were absent in the G8/G20 summits. The three year $20 billion commitment made in the L’Aquila joint statement on Global Food Security has not materialized in reality. The inclusion of country-level planning for   agriculture and smallholder farmer organizations in L’Aquila Food Security Initiative was an important shift in the policies of some G8 countries according to Action Aid. Small-scale agriculture and rural development have been neglected in world deliberations during the past years. Policies have trended to prioritize large-scale land investments, which has increased dependence on food aid and   escalated hunger in the poorest countries. The lack of political will to mobilize the promised funds for malnutrition is also a threat to the achievement of the rest of the Millennium Development Goals, especially the reduction in child and maternal deaths.

Dame Sall, head of the The Réseau Africain pour le Développement Intégré (African Network for Integrated Development) (RADI), an organization from Senegal and partner of the Canadian Catholic Development and Peace, asserts that without a holistic approach to rural development never will the Global South have the ability to claim its right to choose its own food. “Without food Sovereignty you can’t have Food Security”, Dame Sall said during the People’s Summit and alternative event held by civil society organizations a week before the G8/G20 Summits.

According to Mr Sall, ensuring food security implies independence from agricultural international policies. “Food security has different meanings for the G8/G20 leaders and farmers in poor countries”, he said adding that the Global South is not isolated from global solutions. While for some food security means more resources for agro-business and growing cash crops for export and international trade in food products, for others like Dame Sall it means land reform, family farming and food sovereignty.

For many civil society organizations, world leaders were once again, more interested in fighting bank taxes than getting the job done on delivering proper aid to the Global South and curb speculation in the market of raw materials. The liberalization of agricultural markets has proven to be a criminal action for the more than 800 million people still suffering hunger.

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