'Planet Burns While G8 Fiddles'

TOYAKO, Japan - While the world's major industrialised nations expressed satisfaction over their three-day summit meetings that concluded Wednesday, non-governmental organisations, after some early and limited approval, were deeply disappointed with the outcome on the whole.

"The summit (in Toyako on the northern Japanese island Hokkaido) has been another betrayal of the poor and citizens of G8 countries," Kumi Naidoo, co-chair of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) told IPS.

"The outcome shows a lack of understanding of the heart of the issues causing hunger and desperation in many countries. We hope the citizens of these eight countries (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan, Canada and the United States) will put more pressure on their out-of-touch leaders," Naidoo said.

"The planet is burning while the G8 is fiddling," the GCAP co-chair added.

Naidoo said the GCAP representatives of ten countries observing the G8 were deeply concerned at how out of touch with reality the G8 seemed to be on the main issues related to ending poverty.

GCAP is a growing alliance of trade unions, community groups, faith groups, women and youth organisations, NGOs and other campaigners working together across more than 100 countries. GCAP is calling for action from the world's leaders to meet their promises to end poverty and inequality.

"The lack of any real discussion on biofuels in relation to the food price crisis is appalling. References to health, education and water are, sadly, not supported by adequate resources and a timeline commitment," said Naidoo.

While the G8 pays "lip service to the MDGs", their commitments suggest that even these minimalist goals are seriously at risk of failing by 2015, Naidoo said.

MDGs are the eight Millennium Development Goals that range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, to be met by the target date of 2015. These were agreed by heads of state and government at a special session of the UN General Assembly in September 2000.

The G8 said in a document on Development and Africa that "although progress has been made, significant challenges remain. We renew our commitment to these goals by reinvigorating our efforts, and by strengthening our partnerships with, as well as encouraging the efforts of, the developing countries based on mutual accountability."

Minar Pimple, Asia director of the UN Millennium Campaign commented: "Reaffirmation of MDG commitment is a positive signal in the run-up to the MDG high level event in September, but the financial resources on the table fall short of what needs to be achieved by 2015."

GCAP said that the G8 communiquAf(c) this year only reiterates most of the group's earlier commitments "but the world has changed for the worse since 2005."

The increase in food prices by 30 to 45 percent has had a devastating effect, especially on women and children trying to survive on less than a dollar a day, GCAP warns. Millions more are being pushed into poverty, it says.

"Japan was not able to muster up the leadership we hoped to see from them as summit host," GCAP Japan representative Tatsuo Hayashi said. "The Japanese people wanted more action to end poverty, so they will be disappointed too."

These remarks stand in stark contrast to the kudos Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda received this week from summit participants for his "leadership, commitment and sense of purpose," as one participant described it.

In another analysis of the conference documents, GCAP welcomed the 10 billion dollars pledged by the G8 since January 2008 towards the global food price crisis, but said "it is still a knee-jerk response that doesn't address the long-term structural causes.

"The G8 promotion of the 'development of open and efficient agricultural and food markets' has denied poor people the chance to feed themselves today. It treats food as a mere commodity," said Joseph Ssuuna of the PELUM Association in Uganda, which is a member of GCAP.

"The G8 also seem to be pressing for quick-fix trade negotiations which we believe would be devastating -- no deal is better than a bad deal," said Charles Abani of GCAP Africa.

"Tragically, market-driven development, one of the principal causes of the present food crisis, appears to be the solution offered by the present G8 leaders. This is appalling," said Dian Kartika of GCAP Indonesia.

Reacting to the G8 leaders' statement on the Global Food Security Tuesday, farmer leader from the 'Via Campesina' group Yoshitaka Mashima said: "We do not understand why the G8 leaders pretend to solve the food crisis with more free trade while it is the liberalisation of agriculture and food markets that continue to lead us to the current crisis.

"People need to eat local food to protect themselves from the instability of world markets. We do not need more imported food," Mashima told IPS.

At a press conference Wednesday, farmers' leaders said that the G8 governments were mistakenly using the current food and climate crisis to promote the free trade agenda that is serving large companies, and not producers of food or the consumers.

The G8 leaders' statement insists on reviving the agonising WTO negotiations and on preventing countries from regulating food exports.

"Small farmers around the world, men and women, have experienced the devastating effects of free trade and WTO policies on livelihoods and local food production," the farmers' statement said. "They defend the right of countries to protect their domestic markets, to support sustainable family farmers, and to market food in the countries where it is produced."

It said that the G8 leaders also fail to address two major causes of the current food price crisis: speculation by major traders and transnational companies, and the development of bio-fuel as a new source of energy.

"It is important to keep in mind that these root causes of the food crisis are the consequences of the neo-liberal policies promoted by the G8 governments, the WTO, the World Bank and other institutions," Mashima said.

The farmers point out that the G8 also explicitly promotes genetically modified organisms (GMO) as a solution to the food crisis. In doing so, they say, the G8 countries forget that the development of industrial agriculture, with the use of GMO seeds, large amounts of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and monoculture has left millions of farmers in debt.

The statement also challenges the G8 claim about "fostering small holder agriculture." But Mashima said: "We are wondering how the world's richest nations will support small farmers if they do not even allow them to enter the countries where they are meeting."

Nineteen Korean farmers from Via Campesina were deported from Hokkaido airport Jul. 5 after being detained for 48 hours on the grounds that they could disturb the official meetings.

Mashima said that peasants and small food producers currently produce the bulk of world food, and no solution to the current crisis will be found without listening to them.

(c) 2008 Inter Press Service

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