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Believers and cynics

Somebody once defined a cynic as a believer who just keeps getting let down.  No wonder cynicism abounds when the G8 circus comes to town. The leaders’ promises on aid from four years ago got repeated again yesterday – but with just a year until their deadline, there are few here who believe they will ever be met.  As we said in our reaction, there was a distinctly half-hearted feel about last night’s summit conclusions on aid and development.  With one or two exceptions, most leaders’ minds appeared to be elsewhere.  At least expectations and reality are better matched this year than at previous summits.

But perhaps believers of the Make Poverty History generation should not give up hope just yet.  While the G8 failed to increase their aid for maternal and child health (which currently represents a miniscule three per cent of total aid) they were persuaded to commission a new assessment of the finance that is needed to reach the Millennium Development Goals. Reportedly this line in the statement was hastily agreed as the meeting was breaking up and a number of leaders were impatient to leave for an earthquake tour.

There was also a welcome in the communiqué for ‘a global consensus on maternal, newborn and child health as a way to accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals’. This is a classic piece of ‘constructive ambiguity’ as the G8 negotiators would call it. There is a good document knocking around which is being referred to as the ‘Global Consensus’, which some G8 members want to promote as a blueprint for action on maternal and child health.  But because the G8 communiqué refers not to the Global Consensus but a global consensus (see what they did there?) reluctant members were able to sign on knowing they can argue later that it doesn’t mean very much at all. Such is the game that gets played.

Nevertheless, the combination of a new consensus on what need to be done and a new assessment of what it will cost could end up as the basis for an emergency plan to save millions of lives.  It could be the key to rescuing the MDGs on maternal health and child survival.

Of course, if the G8 do make a new plan next year with a new set of commitments, there’s the very real possibility that nobody will believe them.  But I’m in the mood of an embattled football manager right now – I’m taking some positives out of today.

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