The G8 leaders start meeting today in Edinburgh Scotland to discuss Africa and global warming. While they exchange formalities and pose for the media on the first day of the event, which has become more of a yearly ritual rather than a meaningful platform for action, more than 30,000 children under the age of five in developing countries would have died.
By the end of the three day summit the number of dead children in the developing world would have reached 91,000. They are poor faceless children, half of whom would have died from hunger-related causes.
Every year more than 11 million children under five years die because of hunger, lack of sanitation and disease. It is a figure that should shame us all.
Malta, as all countries in the West, is immune to the extreme poverty that occasionally makes it to our television screen. And yet, Third world suffering does reach us in flesh and blood.
The hundreds of illegal immigrants reaching our shore every year are a testimony to poverty and misery. They are the ‘lucky’ ones to have escaped desperation in the hope of finding a better life elsewhere. Closing the border to these people will be shutting the door of hope in their face.
It will be very welcome if the G8 leaders agree on a debt relief package for the world’s poorest countries but that alone can never be enough to halt poverty. It represents a step in the right direction but nonetheless it remains just one solitary step.
A strong dose of financial aid is necessary to help African countries create the basic infrastructure that can start improving the quality of life of the millions who inhabit the continent. Immediate access to clean water, food, education and health care can only be achieved through a concerted effort of the world’s richest countries.
It is also important that aid does not prop up corrupt and dictatorial regimes which in the past have squandered funds in armaments, senseless wars and channelled aid to appease cronies.
But long term survival rests with economic prosperity. With an economic sector primarily and almost exclusively driven by agriculture, African countries need to have access for their products to the heavily restricted European and North American markets.
While the EU and the US champion global free trade as an antidote to poverty they in turn heavily subsidise their agricultural sectors, preventing African products from being traded on their respective domestic markets.
Furthermore, subsidies in the West make European and US farm products cheaper to sell in underdeveloped countries, to the detriment of farmers tilling the land in Africa.
G8 leaders will need to discuss long term trade reforms if they want their actions to have any meaningful impact on the millions of Africans, who can only dream of enjoying a decent meal every day.
Wake up call
For too long this country has lived the myth that Libya and other North African countries are our friends. We have had good relations with some of these countries in the past but the ongoing controversy regarding the declaration of fishing conservation zones by Tunisia and Libya have proved one thing; when the national interest is involved the word friend takes on a distorted meaning.
So long to the much vaunted notion of Malta acting as Europe’s bridge to North Africa. Europe doesn’t need Malta as its bridge and the North Africans have given two hoots about their ‘friendship’ with us.
Libya’s unilateral decision to declare a fishing conservation zone threatens the livelihood of Maltese fishermen. Serious doubts linger as to the real intentions behind the ‘conservation’ aspect of this declaration, particularly given that the coordinates remain, to this date, a mystery, not to mention Gaddafi’s own direct interests in the fishing industry.
And as if this wasn’t enough, Tunisia is now in the process of declaring its own conservation zone, which not only perpetuates the misery for Maltese fishermen but also threatens the country’s oil exploration efforts.
Government cannot act as if nothing has happened. The story about Tunisia’s decision to declare its own conservation zone first appeared in sister newspaper MaltaToday. It was only after the newspaper raised the issue that Cabinet discussed the matter on Monday.
The writing had already been on the wall when Libya announced its decision a month ago and yet Government’s stand was meek. It didn’t bother to raise the issue in the 5+5 meeting held last week in Malta between the five Mediterranean EU countries and the five North African states.
This is an issue the Prime Minister must take up with urgency. A display of unity in Parliament is required. Malta’s economic and strategic interests are at stake here and nothing less than a national effort is required to deliver a strong message through all diplomatic channels possible that this country will not sit by idly while the sea around it is plundered on the pretext of conservation.