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NEWS: Right to water lacking in Oda’s G20 follow-up visit to Mali, Mozambique

At the G20 summit in Toronto this past June, the Harper government pledged $1.1 billion to a global initiative for maternal health and infant mortality over the next five years. The Council of Canadians criticized this pledge because it was less than the $1.24 billion spent on the 16-hour G8/G20 summit weekend and because UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “much, much more” was needed (others have said Canada’s contribution needed to be doubled). We also stated that the human right to water is an essential component of maternal health and infant mortality, and that it was hypocritical for the Harper government to continue to refuse to recognize this fundamental human right both internationally and nationally.

An August 27 media release from the Canadian International Development Agency states that, “The Honourable Beverley J. Oda, Minister of International Cooperation, yesterday concluded a successful trip to Mozambique and Mali, an important step to further develop Canada’s way forward on the Muskoka G-8 initiative to improve maternal, newborn, and child health. …Canada will focus its efforts on strengthening health systems, reducing the impact of the most common diseases and illnesses, and nutrition.”

Afrique en ligne reports that, “Canada will invest 85 million dollars over the next five years in Africa to support programmes promoting maternal and infant health, the Canadian Minister of International Cooperation, Beverly I. Oda, said here Wednesday during a meeting with Malian officials. …The meeting with Malian officials was aimed at sharing experiences and exploring ways of using the funds judiciously.”

The Globe and Mail adds that, “Two months after the G8 Summit, the Harper government is beginning to roll out its maternal-health plan in Africa. But one of its most controversial elements – family planning – is nowhere to be seen in the announcements so far. Bev Oda, Minister of International Co-operation, made no mention of family planning in her official statements during a seven-day visit to Mali and Mozambique this week and last.”

But neither was there a mention in the government’s announcements about the pressing issue of access to water and sanitation.

It has been estimated that in Mali only 65 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water and 69 percent has access to sanitation services of some kind. For Mozambique, about 43 percent of the population has access to safe water and 32 percent has access to adequate sanitation.

The Globe and Mail reported in 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. It has been estimated that $10-$30 billion a year could provide clean drinking water to half the 1.1 billion people around the world who need it. And still Canada abstained at the critical vote this past July at the United Nations recognizing the human right to water. (Mali voted in favour of the right to water at the UN on July 28, while Mozambique was absent from that vote.)

In a blog from her trip to Mozambique, Oda wrote, “Only one other clinic (here) has drinking water; two others have wells nearby. It is difficult to imagine a health facility without clean drinking water.” In another blog she writes, “They were proud to note that the incidence of malaria is decreasing but were very frank with me about the challenges they face―including unreliable access to potable water which travels to the island via a 25-km pipeline just two hours a day.” And yet her international funding priorities still do not seem to recognize the importance of access to water and sanitation.

To read the June Halifax Chronicle-Herald op-ed by Maude Barlow and Meera Karunananthan, ‘Harper no champion of maternal health at the G8’, please go to http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3442.

The web-links related to this blog are at http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/acdi-cida/ACDI-CIDA.nsf/eng/NAT-82710444-KAL, http://www.afriquejet.com/news/africa-news/canada-provides-85m-dollars-to-promote-maternal-health-in-africa-2010082755121.html, and http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/africa-mideast/harper-government-begins-rollout-of-maternal-health-plan-in-africa/article1688365/.