G7: The Taormina disaster

Soldiers guard the beaches in Sicily. Due to G7 Summit restrictions overcrowded boats with suffering refugees were forbidden to land in this area. © Welthungerhilfe

800 million are still going to bed hungry – can the G7 leaders go to bed with a clear conscience?

Up the hill, in Taormina, seven Heads of State and Government and around 2,000 summit delegates.

Further down, in the media centers in two high-priced hotels, in Giardini Naxos, 2,000 accredited journalists and the staff of approximately 40 NGOs.

Some hundred kilometers into the sea, between Italy and the Libyan coast, 1,446 rescued migrants, cramping in a Doctors Without Borders boat that can carry only 600 people, unable to dock in any Sicilian port because of the G7 restrictions, running out of water and food. The boat finally docked in Napoli on Sunday, after 48 hours in the sea. At least 40 children and many pregnant women were on board.

And what was the result of a summit that cost at least 55 million Euros, had a town locked down for at least one week and more than 10,000 security officials roaming roads, the sky and the sea? A six-pages final communiqué, where diplomatic language is used to ‘re-affirm’ and ‘re-iterate’ but without any concrete political or financial commitment. A disaster. The G7 leaders seem to have found agreement only on terror and security, topics on which it was easy to show a common front after the dramatic terror attack in Manchester, few days before the Summit.

„Deep concerns“ don’t feed starving people

But what about the 20 million people starving in the Horn of Africa and Yemen? What about the 800 million globally going to bed hungry and the 2 billion suffering from hidden hunger? Well, they get the “deep concern” of the most powerful countries in the world; they can rely on the G7 raising their „collective support […] through an array of possible actions“; and let’s not forget the promise to continuously support political processes addressing the cause of hunger or the „commitment to strengthening the humanitarian system to prepare for and mitigate crisis“.

"We need more investments to support small-holder farmers, as they are crucial for food security," Mary Afan, Nigeria, addressing to G7

„We need more investments to support small-holder farmers, as they are crucial for food security,“ Mary Afan, Nigeria, addressing to G7

Nothing but a re-worded and possibly even more vague version of what was promised two years ago in Elmau, Germany. At that time, the G7 had committed to lifting 500 million people out of poverty and hunger by 2030, a clear contribution towards the second Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger. What we, as all the NGOs working on food and nutrition security, were expecting from this G7 was a clear path towards achieving this goal with defined steps and concrete financial commitments. Welthungerhilfe, together with members of the Global Coalition Against Poverty (GCAP), our Italian Alliance2015 partner CESVI and the Global G7 NGO Task Force, had been asking for a while to the G7 leaders to open their ears, and listen not only to the requests of civil society, but mostly to the cry of help of millions of people in the South of the world. Without concrete and prompt action, the fulfilling of the Sustainable Development Goals – which are and should be a priority for the whole world – is at serious risk. Continuing with a „business as usual“ approach, especially when it comes to investments, is a guarantee of failing to achieve the SDG targets.

Not only the US to blame

But none of this happened. In a summit overshadowed by Trump’s behavior and blatant disinterest in anything that did not directly benefit the United States of America, the G7 leaders were unable to agree on something incredibly simple: Zero Hunger is not just a vision, it’s a human right.

As an observer and participant in the political process of the G7 this year, it would be too easy to blame only the US and their blockage for the failure of this summit. All in all, the financial contributions to fight hunger and malnutrition leave a lot to be desired. Already last year in Brazil, in the summer of the Olympic Games, nothing came out of a potential pledging event on Nutrition for Growth. But instead of finding other formats or pledging opportunities, or having individual states taking the lead as pioneers on these issues, once again nothing has happened and time is running out.

In the months before the summit it was already clear that not much could be expected from the US’ pockets, but also the other G6 countries were conspicuously silent on whether they would commit to spend any money at all for the Elmau target, the SDGs and specifically SDG 2 – or if they would turn the summit into a mere diplomatic chess play, discussing subtleties. If even one of them had really wanted, the solutions would have been found. Hiding behind elections and other internal political processes is simple cowardice: investments against hunger and malnutrition, political solutions to conflicts and solving the migrants and refugee crisis cannot wait.

This is about human lives and not merchandise.

In the final G7 Leaders’ Communiqué, the equally important theme of health was reduced to 100 vague words; the hope of the Italian government, to include the positive aspects of migration, were crashed in favor of a sentence reaffirming  “the sovereign rights of states […] to control their own borders and to establish policies in their own national interest and national security” – this after 34 people, including children, died on their way to Italy, the day before the summit started. What people, especially the G7 leaders, really need to understand, is, that the millions of those who leave their home-countries do it, because it is simply impossible to live there. Anyone who has experienced what it means to live in Syria, in a South Sudan refugee camp, or in drought-affected Ethiopia, would understand that choosing risking their lives trying to come to a peaceful place is still a safer bet than staying back.

The news more picked up by media was Trump’s ‘inability’ to commit to implementing the Paris Climate Agreement; he apparently needed to think a bit more about it and will let the rest of the world know this week. Luckily, in an unprecedented move, the remaining G6 did confirm their commitment, refusing to let the USA stall this issue. Why couldn’t they show the same strength on other issues as well?

How could they not take action?

From a civil society and human rights perspective, this G7 was a massive failure, beyond our worst expectations. As an organization fighting daily to achieve its vision of a world without hunger, we went back home disappointed, angry and saddened. We have seen malnourished children in Ethiopia, too weak to sit up; we have talked to people whose livelihood was completely wiped away by the latest drought or flood, whose survival depended entirely on external aid; we have spoken with parents whose heart breaks every time they cannot feed their hungry children. We have talked to women in a South Sudan refugee camp, accepting violence and death on the way to the food distribution points as the price to pay to guarantee the survival of their families one day to another.

Ignorance is not a justification: the seven very powerful people sitting around a table for two days last week in Sicily must have seen pictures of these people and heard their stories too: then how could they not take action? How can they go to bed with a clear conscience, when they know that 800 million people are going to bed with an empty stomach?

Each country has the obligation to act now

“At this year’s summit in Taormina, the G7 leaders did not take responsibility for all the people suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” is our summary upon our return from Sicily. “The G7 promised in Elmau to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, but this Summit did not take us any closer to reaching this goal. The way forward is to strengthen the rights of small-holders, create income opportunities in rural areas, promote sustainable farming systems and focus on supporting the poorest countries in the world.”

Failing to meet the SDG targets is a threat for the world as a whole, not only for the countries whose sad stories we see on TV; the Sustainable Development Goals help guarantee a livable planet for all future generations, regardless of where they live. The G7 countries, contributing to more than half of the global economy and with their enormous power and reach have no excuses not to act.  On Saturday in Taormina the G7 failed but this does not excuse them from taking further responsibilities. Each single country has the obligation to act now for a world free from hunger and poverty.

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