Development agencies respond to G8 aid initiatives

  • June 26, 2010
salle damAs this year's G8 and G20 meetings in Toronto steer their attention to maternal and child health care in poor countries, Caritas Internationalis and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace are trying to keep the leaders  focused on last year's promises to boost aid spending on food security and agriculture.

The Catholic development agencies have named "the rising food crisis" as their number one priority for the summit of the world's most powerful leaders.

"Decades of misguided economic and agricultural policies have finally become too much for farmers and people around the world to withstand," said a Caritas statement from Rome June 24.

However, host country Canada has made maternal, newborn and child health care its signature initiative for the G8 Summit in Huntsville, two and a half hours north of Toronto.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Canada will put $1.1 billion in new money on the table to improve the health of mothers, newborns and children under five. It's expected Harper will try to exact similar commitments from the other G8 leaders.

While he can't fault Canada for wanting to do something about the 115,000 pregnant women and new mothers who die from iron deficiency each year, or the nine million children under five every year who die from preventable diseases, those problems won't be solved unless people can eat, the secretary general of the African Network for Integrated Development, Dame Sall, told The Catholic Register.

Since 1996, when the G8 deemed it unacceptable that 827 million people around the world were in acute danger of starving to death, the number of chronically malnourished humans has increased to 854 million, the Senegalese Sall said.

At L'Aquila the G8 pledged to "increase investments in the short, medium and long term agricultural development that directly benefits the poorest and makes best use of international institutions." But just making the pledge was not enough, said Sall.

"They are laudable goals, but mostly theoretical," he said.

A year later the independent G8 Research Group based in the University of Toronto judged that the G8 plus the European Union were all in compliance with their L'Aquila food security commitments, with the exception of Italy which was in partial compliance.

But poor farmers in Africa aren't seeing progress on the ground, and constantly shifting priorities won't help, said Sall.

"We have to start with the basics – food sovereignty," he said.

Its the emerging economies of the G20 where Sall places his hope.

"African countries as a whole need partnerships with the G20 – south-south partnerships," he said.

Sall's African Network for Integrated Development is supported by Development and Peace funding.

Big-picture adherence to the G8's L'Aquila promises hasn't quelled the unease of peasant farmers in Haiti, said Development and Peace.

June 4 a Development and Peace partner organization, Mouvement Paysan Papaye, brought 10,000 peasant farmers in Haiti to a march near Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic to protest against a donation of 475 tonnes of hybrid seeds from Monsanto Inc. The farmers fear Monsanto's hybrid seeds will lead to the extinction of local varieties of rice, make farmers dependent on imported seeds and shift Haitian agriculture away from small farmers growing for local markets to large farms producing for the export market.

The Mouvement Paysan Papaye is also concerned about the environment and wish to preserve small-scale organic farming, said Development and Peace programs officer Debra Bucher.

Progress on food security should be linked to progress on climate change, said Development and Peace executive director Michael Casey.

"We need more aid, better spent. And we need to see effective action on climate change," Casey said in a Caritas press release.

While Caritas and Development and Peace concentrate on food security and the Millennium Development Goals, the Brussels-based CIDSE international alliance of Catholic development agencies is urging the G20 to get moving on what some are calling the "Robin Hood tax."

CIDSE wants the G20 to impose a world-wide financial transactions tax of between 0.01 and 0.1 per cent on sales of stocks, bonds and financial derivatives. The money raised should be used to finance development "including and beyond the Millennium Development Goals," said CIDSE.

CIDSE is also urging the G20 to eliminate tax havens and impose more international regulation of banks and multinational companies.

"The world needs just solutions to ensure our common future. The G20 Summit must contribute to these solutions," said the CIDSE G20 summit statement.

CIDSE is made up of 16 Catholic development agencies, including Canada's Development and Peace.

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