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NEWS: Harper’s pledges on maternal health lack credibility

The Canadian Press reports today that, “The Harper government can’t claim victory at the G8 for helping poor moms and kids if it freezes aid spending next year, says Jeffrey Sachs, one of the world’s leading economists.”

The Harper government has made much of maternal health as its summit priority, but Sachs says, “I can’t say that we’ve seen the Harper government really do much on these issues at all. And if they try to pass this off as a success, and they freeze the aid and the levels go down even from 0.3 of one per cent of (GDP), it would be pretty disappointing and far from accountable.”

Canada’s $5 billion aid budget will be frozen next year and is well below former prime minister Lester B. Pearson’s target of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on development aid. Sachs says, “It is extremely surprising to me, I have to say, in an era where Canada’s economic performance has been very strong, Canada’s a very prosperous and wealthy country … it hasn’t seen fit to follow through on the very important targets it itself helped to institute.”


Toronto Star columnist Carol Goar writes, “Half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth every year and 9 million children die before their fifth birthday. Better nutrition, clean water, immunization and trained health-care workers will make a real difference. (But if Harper) is merely reallocating funds within Ottawa’s (frozen) $5 billion aid budget, it means Canada won’t be doing more to alleviate global poverty. It will be robbing existing programs to pay for a new one. This country can afford to do better than that.”

A Canadian Press report on June 5 noted that, “Sources have told The Canadian Press that Canada is willing to put up about $1 billion as long as other countries contribute as well. But in the draft communiqué, the total amount is still just an X.”

The CBC reported in late-May that this $1 billion pledge is less than the cost of the summits and “it’s also far less than the $2 billion over five years that the United Nations’ children’s fund has said is necessary for Canada to make a meaningful difference in the health of poor mothers.”


Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has stated, “Recognizing water as a human right is vital to ensuring that governments address the reality of more than a billion people who are currently without access to clean water. A UN covenant on the right to water would serve as a common coherent body of rules for all nations, rich and poor, and clarify that it is the responsibility of the state to provide sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water to all of its citizens.”

The Globe and Mail reported in mid-May that Prime Minister Stephen Harper “listed off clean water” and said “there are… not controversial things, things that are not expensive” that “can make a real significant difference” to help women and children in developing countries.

Harper has even said that the cost of providing clean water “is within the reach” of any of the G8 countries.

And yet, he continues to refuse to recognize the human right to water. His government has even actively blocked movement forward on this issue  at the UN’s Human Rights Council.


Maude Barlow wrote in her book Blue Covenant that, “If the World Bank, the United Nations and northern countries (including those in the G8) were serious about providing clean water for all, they would cancel or deeply cut the Third World debt, substantively increase foreign aid, fund public services, tell their big bottling companies to stop draining poor countries dry and invest in water reclamation programs to protect source water. They would also tell the water companies that they no longer have any say in which countries and communities receive water funding.”

Can we expect the G8 to do this? What is their record on the promises they do make?

The Canwest News Service reports today on examples of the G8’s broken promises:

  • a pledge in L’Aquila, Italy for a new $20 billion fund for food security has less than $880 million in the pipeline
  • the pledge to double aid to Africa is $20 billion short by the G8’s own accounting (a leaked draft of the G8 communique made no mention of a pledge at the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, to double aid to Africa by 2010)
  • the target of universal access to medicine for people with HIV by 2010 is not within sight.

Sachs says, “The very summit that’s supposed to be about commitments being fulfilled and about accountability, they are probably going to try to duck this. In my view this would essentially be the end of the G8 as a credible instrument.”


To read Maude Barlow and Meera Karunananthan’s recent op-ed on maternal health and the right to water in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, please go to www.canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3540. The news articles are at http://www.vancouversun.com/business/needs+account+broken+promises+Critic/3163274/story.html#ixzz0r6gbmQJ7 and http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/breakingnews/sachs-slams-harper-g8-maternal-health-plan-criticizes-aid-spending-freeze-96512094.html.