Christian anti-poverty advocates had mixed feelings about this past week’s G-20 summit but unanimously called upon leaders of the world's largest national economies to act on the promises they have made regarding hunger, health, and development.
"We are thankful to President Obama for bringing to the G-20 issues that are important to poor people,” commented the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.
Beckmann’s organization was “especially appreciative” of the G-20's push for a strong framework to promote sustainable, balanced economic growth and efforts to address climate change, which has a disproportionately negative effect on poor people.
However, Beckmann added, "[r]eal action must now follow the positive statements they made during the summit.”
"It's important that any meaningful global economic recovery be measured against how many of the world's poorest people are able to lift themselves out of chronic hunger and poverty," he said.
For two straight days, the G-20 summit brought together leaders of 20 major industrialized and developing economies to discuss global economic issues. In the first international summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama, the G-20 (Group of 20) moved to give China and other fast-growing economies a bigger say in decision-making and to crack down on greedy bankers.
They also agreed to make themselves the lead group for tackling international economic issues in the future, eclipsing the older, Western-dominated Group of Eight. Together, the G-20 account for 90 percent of global gross national product, 80 percent of world trade, and represent two-thirds of the world's population.
While a more-empowered G-20 could become a stronger voice for the poor and holds potential for broader coordination in the global fight against poverty and hunger, some aid policy experts expressed their concern over the group's failure to prioritize the needs of the poor during the Sept. 24-25 summit.
"Global poverty clearly was not a main focus of the G20 leaders in Pittsburgh this week, and that has consequences for the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty, including citizens these leaders represent," commented Robert Zachritz, director for advocacy and government relations for humanitarian agency World Vision in the United States.
Furthermore, while the leaders' final statement recognized the importance of food security, education and closing the development gap for the world's most vulnerable, many have noted that the communiqué lacked urgency and a clear, specific plan of action.
“G-20 nations together represent two thirds of the world's population and as much as 90 percent of its economic output,” stated World Vision, which serves in 100 countries including most G-20 nations. “As such, this group of leaders has a responsibility to fuel action against the poverty-related problems of preventable disease, child and maternal deaths, malnutrition and hunger, which economic crises magnify.”
Presently, one of six people in the world go to bed hungry each night, and malnutrition underlies a third of the 8.8 million preventable child deaths annually. Some 1.4 billion people, meanwhile, are living on less than $1.25 a day.
Though there had been significant progress against hunger and poverty, the last two years of global financial upheaval have caused a dramatic reveral in the progress. For the first time in history, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that more than one billion people are suffering from hunger.
"We hope that as leaders from the world's wealthiest nations return home, they will also remember the pledges they have made to achieve the Millennium Development Goals," commented Beckmann. "We also urge them to fulfill their commitment to raise $20 billion for a new food security initiative.”
World Vision, meanwhile, is calling on developing and industrialized countries alike to tackle the causes of extreme poverty and hunger, and boost progress in reducing child and maternal deaths.
“As World Vision has seen from its work in communities in dozens of developing countries, each nation's government and communities bear primary responsibility for addressing the rights and needs of their citizens,” the Christian relief and development agency stated.
“Success in achieving goals to reduce hunger, preventable deaths and extreme poverty depends on countries meeting their existing aid commitments, making themselves accountable for action, and developing specific strategies and timelines for executing plans,” World Vision added.
“We urge leaders to adopt these priorities as they prepare for their joint ‘transition’ summit to be held in Canada in June 2010,” the organization concluded.