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Change we can believe in?

US President Obama and Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi
US President Obama and Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi

Today is the last day of the L’Aquila G8 Summit. We must judge if these three days of talks have made any important changes for children living in developing countries. On the evidence of the Communiqué released on Wednesday, we would have to say that this is not one of the significant Summits. We have said that it was half-hearted and half-baked. Much of it repeated old promises from Germany in 2007 and Japan in 2008. Where there were new areas, such as accountability for promises or the commitment to maternal newborn and child survival, it was more token gesture than real action.

Yesterday, I was able to get into the Obama/Berlusconi press conference on climate change – normally out of bounds to charities and campaigners. It was the first time I had been in a room with Obama and he was, as everyone reports, cool and calm and authoritative. He also said that America has changed and will no longer be climate change deniers blocking action on global warming.

Today he is announcing a new initiative on agriculture subsidy for developing countries before he goes on a visit to Africa. This is money to support farming so that people can be more self-sufficient and rely on their own resources. Hopefully this is a first step away from the long-term US practice of shipping American-grown food to Africa. While that sounds like a good thing to do, in reality it destroys local agriculture markets, increases poor people’s dependency on food handouts and does nothing to break the cycle of famines. We have to watch to see if this initiative grows to address these concerns too.

If anything is hopeful from this summit, it has to be the commitment from the United States to operate differently in the world and be a better partner for development, to prioritise global concerns above its national interests. This would be a real change and we must hope that it will come true.

As we pack up and travel home, the other subject which I find hopeful is the consensus on maternal, newborn and child health. By prioritising these together, not separately, and by being clear that action needs to be delivered through government health systems with the aim of abolishing user fees that keep the poor away from healthcare, this could build into something big. As Save the Children, we must get behind it and make sure the G8 and other important players finally take a stand to stop the deaths of children.

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