The National Catholic Review
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A $7.3 billion pledge, including $5 billion from the Group of Eight countries, is not enough to stop millions of needless deaths among pregnant women and young children and is not enough for the G-8 leaders to say they've lived up to their responsibilities, representatives of Catholic aid groups said. "We're disappointed with the G-8 leaders," said Michael Casey, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, after the June 26-27 G-8 meeting in Huntsville, Ontario.

"It's kind of a failure," said Alexis Anagnan of the French Catholic aid agency World Solidarity.

As partners with Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church's umbrella humanitarian and development agency, both organizations pushed the G-8 leaders to boost their commitment to women's and children's health concerns under the Muskoka Initiative. The development groups also urged the related Group of 20 economic summit in Toronto June 27-28 to ramp up efforts to reduce extreme poverty worldwide by 2015 as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations. But representatives of the world's leading economies at both summits were focused on other concerns as the worldwide recession continues.

"We've entered a world where the only language that matters is economics," Redemptorist Father Paul Hansen, director of his order's Biblical Justice Consultancy, said after the motorcades disappeared and the dignitaries left town.

The leaders of the world's 20 largest economies agreed to cut their government deficits in half by 2013 and stop growth of public debt relative to gross domestic product by 2016. Voluntary financial constraints on government borrowing will allow poorer countries to participate in a healthier world economy, the final G-20 statement said. "Increasing global growth on a sustainable basis is the most important step we can take in improving the lives of all of our citizens, including those in the poorest countries," the world leaders said.

But Father Hansen was disappointed that G-20 leaders chose to ignore the opportunity to clamp down on speculation in financial markets. "What we have developed is no longer an economy based on goods and services, but an economy based on paper, transfer of hot money, currency speculation, derivatives, hedge funds that have zero basis in goods and services," he said.

The money pledged for women's and children's health concerns for the first time included funds from private foundations. Non G-8 countrie s, including Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland, also pledged funds to the effort. The United Nations estimates that between $15 billion and $33 billion is needed by 2015 to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health enough to satisfy the Millennium Development Goals. The United Nations pegs the G-8 share of the total at about $20 billion.

About 9 million children per year die of diseases that are easily treatable with inexpensive immunizations, proper nutrition and better health care for pregnant women. Hemorrhages, infection, obstructed labor and very high blood pressure leading to seizures cause more than 350,000 preventable deaths annually among pregnant women.

A group of Canadian aid agencies lobbied for a $24 billion fund over five years.

Ikem Opara, program coordinator for Canadian Jesuits International, was pleased that the G-8 did not entirely walk away from the Muskoka Initiative. "That gave me some hope," Opara said. "From my own experience growing up in Nigeria, those were the two things that seemed to affect everybody's day-to-day life the most, child mortality and what maternal health meant."

&nTo make significant progress toward the development goals, food security issues also must be addressed, he said.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace believes the G-20 took a backward step on food security by trying to solve the world's climate change problems with investments in agrofuels. "What we had asked our government was to put influence on the G-8 for support for small-scale, sustainable agriculture," Casey said. "Our concern was the deteriorating condition of agriculture worldwide, especially small-scale, peasant farmers, subsistence farmers."

The most developed countries in the world must focus on recalibrating the economics of food production and distribution, rather than promote genetically modified crops on poor farmers, said Jesuit Brother Paul Desmarais, on a visit from Zambia. "Right now we have enough food in the world to feed everybody, but we have so many people who are hungry and malnourished because people can't afford the food," Brother Desmarais explained. "I don't think those issues are addressed."

G-8 and G-20 decisions will be a topic of conversation among Canadian bishops before the next G-20 meeting, said Archbishop Brendan O'Brien of Kingston, Ontario. The chairman of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace said th e bishops plan to finish a statement on poverty by the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Oct. 17. The document will draw heavily on Pope Ben edict XVI's 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate." ("Charity in Truth").

Archbishop O'Brien said he hopes the G-20 follows through on the "accountability agenda" promoted by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"There's the vision, there's the commitment, and then there's the follow-up," he said. "I see a reason for hope. There's certainly a lot of good will there. The question is to what extent can they operate on that."

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