Make the G8 History? Not just yet…

2013 must be the year in which the root causes of hunger and malnutrition are tackled head on, writes Leah Kreitzman.

The other G8 leaders would have been forgiven for thinking that Britain had just had a snap election, when earlier this month they received a letter from the 2013 group president. Among the priorities outlined by David Cameron for the forthcoming G8 summit is the need to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, shine a light on the practices of businesses and governments and ensure transparency in the way investors are acquiring and using land and other natural resources.

To those who follow the international development debate closely, a focus on these issues is not such a surprise. They are strands of what David Cameron calls his ‘golden thread’ of development, and it has a distinctively Conservative texture. By dealing with these challenges, along with opening up trade and stimulating private investment, so the argument goes, we will set the foundations needed for strong economic growth, prosperity and, underpinning that, job creation.

However, in a world where one in eight people live with the daily pain of hunger, the global prosperity and growth the Prime Minister seeks will not be realised until this ultimate development challenge is overcome.

Hunger is not just a symptom of poverty; it also has a major causal role. By 2025 nearly a billion young people could face poverty because of the damage done to them now by hunger and malnutrition. The physical and cognitive impacts of childhood malnutrition can lead to a loss of 20 per cent in earnings over a life time and cost economies more than 3 per cent of their annual GDP. This cycle must be broken if we are to ensure economic growth in low income and emerging economies translates into better human development for the poorest.

This is why over 100 British organisations are launching a campaign today to make 2013 the year in which the root causes of hunger and malnutrition are tackled head on. There are unique opportunities to make this happen, including the first G8 under a British presidency since 2005.

Last time the group of eight of the world’s largest economies met on our shores we asked them to help make poverty history by pledging to increase aid and cancel debt. The world has changed since 2005 and so have the solutions to the global problems we face. In the last eight years we have witnessed riots sparked by record commodity prices and hunger crises spanning the African continent – just the most extreme manifestation of a food system, under strain from climate change, a growing population and changing diets, which is close to breaking point. It is a system which allows more than two million children to die each year from malnutrition; that supports targets which means land is used to grow fuel for cars not food for people; enables a few to make billions speculating on and trading in food markets while millions of small farmers struggle to feed their families and within which the operations of notoriously secretive companies and closed governments cannot be held to account.

The G8 alone cannot fix the problem. It is truer now than ever that other countries, including those suffering a high burden of hunger, need a seat round the table. But the G8, led this year by the only country on track to keep its development commitments and with the credibility that entails, can play an important initiating and convening role.

The campaign Enough Food for Everyone, IF is calling on the Prime Minister to use his international leadership role this year to mobilise the resources needed, from donors and developing country governments, to fill the investment gap in lifesaving nutrition interventions and small-scale agriculture. But it is also demanding the structural changes necessary to secure long term benefits from the effective, targeted aid and investment needed now.

The G8 could be the first signatories of a new tax transparency convention ensuring poorer countries can collect the revenues they are due and invest in hunger reduction for their citizens. It can promote open data and budgets so citizens can see how that money is being spent and it can encourage greater transparency in land deals, so it is clear whether acquisition of this precious resource is being used in the best interests of the many not the few.

David Cameron’s golden thread of development needs to weave through a complex world, one in which the group he presides over this year has waning significance. But Britain’s long established leadership on international development presents our Prime Minister with a unique opportunity to ensure that, with others, it does what it can to fix the broken food system. There is a campaign mobilising to hold their feet to the fire. If this opportunity is missed, it is far more than the relevance of this group of eight that’s at stake.

The G8 pose for a family picture. Photograph: Getty Images

Leah Kreitzman is a senior advocacy adviser for Save the Children. She has previously worked as a Political Adviser to the Labour Party, media manager for the campaigning organisation ONE and for the Overseas Development Institute.

ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war