Yes, the G8 still matters
This year the G8 can begin the end of world hunger
by Ben Phillips
Oxfam Campaigns Director
In the nineteenth century, many families fled to Canada from the Irish Famine, and many of those who couldn't make it ended up in mass graves like one in Ardess, Fermanagh, whose stone tribute reads simply "Within this Famine Pit lieth the unknown dead."
The grave is close to the venue of this year's G8 summit in Loch Erne, Northern Ireland, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other world leaders will have the chance to ensure that we begin the end of global hunger.
It is fashionable to say that the G8 is irrelevant. It is also incorrect.
When the G8 leaders decide to act, the impact is felt across the world. The decision made by the G8 in Muskoka, Canada, in 2010, to invest in global health has already saved and changed lives and will prevent over five years the deaths of 1.3 million young children. Earlier G8 meetings have launched commitments to universal AIDS treatment and the cancelling of unfair and unpayable debts. This year's G8 meeting in June, hosted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, provides an opportunity for world leaders to begin the end of hunger.
Charities, celebrities, faith groups, students and community organisations have united in an exciting grassroots campaign that calls on the G8 to tackle not only the symptoms of hunger, but the causes. They highlight the paradox that we live in world where there is enough food for everyone, but not everyone has enough food.
The call is not principally for leaders to bring their cheque books, but for them to agree to rewrite the rule book. The campaign is called "IF", because we can ensure everyone has enough food if leaders act. The campaign challenges the G8 to act on the basis there would be “Enough Food For Everyone If” they:
- tackle the scandal of corporate tax evasion and avoidance that hurts ordinary people in Canada and also denies Africa key revenues needed to pay for child nutrition programs and for every child to finish school;
- ensure that private investment in agriculture really is, in the words of the Muskoka Declaration, "responsible and sustainable," by strengthening rules to prevent land grabs which force poor farmers off their land and into destitution;
- improve transparency in the actions of big business, including by mandatory country-by-country reporting on payments and profits, as one of the proven best ways to reduce harm is to tackle secrecy;
- focus efforts to reduce hunger on small-scale farmers, especially women, who are the best placed to improve household food security, and on small children who are the most at risk from malnutrition.
To give just one example of the difference that action could mean for people in poverty: Zambia, where I travelled to see Oxfam's programs last December, would have 46% more to spend on nutrition, agriculture, schools and health, if its efforts to prevent tax dodging by multinationals were supported by stronger global rules. And tightening the rules to stop tax dodging would help mitigate financial pressures in the West, too. We should not have to choose between closing health clinics in Africa and closing libraries in Britain or Canada – we can close tax loopholes instead.
I met with political leaders in Ottawa this week because Canada is a global leader in efforts to tackle world hunger, investing significant aid in agriculture and nutrition. International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino's renewal of Canada's food aid commitment this month showed once again the government's concern.
The G8 offers Canada an opportunity to take that concern a step further by using its leadership position to rally governments to action on the causes, not only symptoms, of the scourge of hunger.
Many Canadian families are descended from people who had to flee other lands to escape hunger.
They understand how vital it is that Canada embraces this opportunity to tackle the causes of hunger, to ensure that in a world with enough food for everyone, everyone has enough food.
Ben Phillips is Oxfam Campaigns Director. He began his development career as a teacher and ANC activist in South Africa in 1994, just after the end of Apartheid.
This article was published February 27, 2013 in Embassy, Canada's foreign policy news weekly: www.embassynews.ca