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G8: Not Everyone Is Following the Leaders

Sabina Zaccaro

ROME, Jul 6 2009 (IPS) - Many civil society organisations are staying on in Sardinia island in support of a region severely affected by the economic crisis, after the G8 leaders summit was moved from there to the city of L'Aquila.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi decided to move the G8 meeting to L'Aquila, north-east of Rome, after a major earthquake almost destroyed the city and surroundings in April, killing 300 people. The government explained the decision as "an act of solidarity, and attention to the region's population."

But 17 national, international and regional NGOs that had begun work with the people of Sardinia decided they would not walk out on the region. "We had started to work with the local communities on our joint proposals to the G8 when the decision was taken," says Raffaella Bolini of the human rights organisation Arci. "And we decided to maintain our activities there, particularly in the mining areas of Sulcis Iglesiente and Maedio Campidano."

According to organisers of an alternative GSott8 (G Underground) summit, Sardinia and areas around are a metaphor for challenges arising from climate change and the financial crisis.

Sulcis region in southern Sardinia has gone through years of over- exploitation of its mineral and natural resources, that have now run dry.

Sardinia was long the most important mining region of Italy for lead, zinc, copper and other metals. The decline of their economic value, which experts see as a consequence of changes in mining activities in less developed countries, led to an abandonment of workers in many areas of the island.

"The last mine of the Sulcis region was closed in 1994," trade unionist Luigi Camposano told IPS. "Workers who have been risking their lives in such hard and insane places lying down every day in 80cm high corridors, have suffered. Because with the work, they have lost their dignity.

"Sardinia is isolated, there are few productive factories, poverty is growing, the future of its inhabitants is not sustainable," Campisano said. "Its situation is very similar to that of developing countries that are struggling to build their future."

Economic difficulties faced by the companies that owned the mines, and a lack of effective environmental policy hampered restoration of the mine areas.

The unemployment rate is very high in the region. According to trade unions, 35,000 former workers are unemployed on an island with a population of 135,000, and 6,000 are on short contracts. Another 15,000 are expected to lose their jobs in the near future. Only 2,500 have been given unemployment benefits.

According to GSott8 organisers, almost every family in Sardinia is affected by the crisis. The island is suffering like much of the world. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has estimated that about 200 million jobs have been lost worldwide due to the economic crisis, putting millions of people into extreme poverty.

"Neither G8 nor G20 can provide an effective response to this global crisis," Bolini told IPS. "They do not represent world power, but only great economies in crisis. The G192 and every local community must be included in the decision-making process, and they can offer concrete contributions from below to deal with the emergency."

The environment is another victim of the crisis in Sardinia. Contamination from abandoned mines has been worsened by semi-arid conditions with long periods of drought and heat, and a scarcity of shallow groundwater and vegetable cover.

Sardinia is in some respects not very different from Nigeria, says Nnimmo Bassey, director of Environmental Rights Action (ERA), a Nigerian organisation working to limit the environmental impact of oil extraction in the Niger Delta.

"The major challenge for the Nigerian state today is related to the collapse of crude oil revenue from an unprecedented 150 dollars a barrel to below 40 dollars," he said. "Nigeria produces two million barrels a day, but crude oil, and the related problems of degradation and workers' rights abuses, has already caused Nigeria enough problems."

According to Bassey, Nigeria should begin to look at alternative sources of revenue generation. "What ERA proposes is to keep the oil under the ground; the world will move to alternative energy sources in the next few years, so there is no future in crude oil as the major revenue earner. We ask Nigeria to not make any new oil block concessions."

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