Global security takes priority over health at G8 summit

Oxfam called the summit a washout. And Barry Coates, director of the World Development Movement said, "Evian should consign the G8 to a watery grave." In fact, the only concrete financial result was a promise by France to treble its contribution to fighting AIDS to US$175 million.
The summit of leaders from the eight leading industrialised countries who met in Evian, France, this week, tried to bury their divisions over the war in Iraq and said they shared "the conviction that the time has now come to build peace and reconstruct Iraq".BR> < The summit closed at midday on Tuesday with the group of eight (G8) issuing upbeat statements about global economic recovery, further pledges against worldwide terrorism, and calls for stricter controls on weapons of mass destruction.BR> The summit marked the first time the G8—USA, Germany, Japan, Russia, France, the UK, Italy, and Canada—had met since the Iraq war, which half the group had opposed. Although the focus was on Iraq and terrorism, health and development did make a fleeting appearance on the 3-day agenda.BR> French President Jacque Chirac invited 12 leaders of low and middle income countries to contribute to the health debate at the summit. He later challenged US President George Bush to invite leaders of the major developing nations to next year's G8 in the USA and to maintain focus on fighting deadly epidemics, improving access to clean water, and reducing debt.BR> However, the consensus among non-governmental organisations at the summit was that the attending poor nations from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America had very little to show for the meeting. BR> "Today's inaction plan on health is a bitter pill to swallow for people in developing countries who know that", said Bernard Pécoul, director of Médecins Sans Frontière's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. BR> Oxfam called the summit a washout. And Barry Coates, director of the World Development Movement said, "Evian should consign the G8 to a watery grave." In fact, the only concrete financial result was a promise by France to treble its contribution to fighting AIDS to US$175 million.BR> However, the leaders invited by Chirac brought their own health and development plans, to which they hoped the G8 would pledge additional funds and technical assistance. Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, proposed two funds: one to eradicate hunger, funded by rich nations in proportion to their military spending. And a second transport and infrastructure fund to improve economic growth in poorer countries. South Africa's president, headed the African delegation's proposal to increase funding for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).BR> This partnership was actually launched last year but G8 nations have been reluctant to increase funding until African nations institute more political reforms. Despite these weighty issues, the poorer nations' most pressing concern was to improve trading conditions and in particular to make substantial cuts in agricultural subsidies. However on this crucial issue, the G8 sidestepped any firm agreements and instead reaffirmed their commitment to end global trade liberalisation talks by 2005.BR> At the close of the summit the G8 issued four statements on health, water, sustainable development, and the famine in Africa. On health, the G8 reaffirmed their commitment to goals set by the Millennium Summit and at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Of some hope was the G8's support for an international conference in Paris in July to "develop strategies for mobilising resources in order to secure sustainable long term financing for the Global Fund", which is facing a funding crisis.BR> On water, the G8 called on the international community to redouble their efforts and to build on the targets laid out most recently at the world water forum in Japan. The leaders promised to take a more active role in water management particularly in Africa, which has received special attention this year. BR> The G8 also pledged to increase aid to humanitarian needs worldwide but noted that Africa had a current food shortfall of 1·2 million metric tonnes. Efforts to alleviate the effect of the famine in Africa would include improving needs assessments, crop forecasting systems, increasing aid effectiveness, and various longer term measures to improve food security.BR> The famine action plan noted that any new strategies "must be adequately addressed in the context of national development and poverty planning". The sustainable development plan said that further improvements to public health could be made if pollution and greenhouse gas emissions were cut. The summit was marred by anti-G8 protests and rioting in Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland, and Annemasse in France.BR> Haroon AshrafBR>