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DEVELOPMENT: 'G192' Urged to Put People in Doha Talks

Ann Ninan

DOHA, Dec 1 2008 (IPS) - The demand is seemingly simple. ‘Vote for democratic, people-centred development’, advise civil society at the ongoing inter-governmental review of the Monterrey Consensus in Doha, Qatar.

Casting a vote for 'people-centred development' at the Doha talks. Credit:  IPS

Casting a vote for 'people-centred development' at the Doha talks. Credit: IPS

With the clock ticking on the outcome of the meeting, that will set the agenda for financing development, civil society has turned the heat on governments locked in closed door sessions to negotiate the final outcome document.

"This is a general assembly of the U.N., and the G192 should vote on who will decide the outcome document," urges Roberto Bissio of Social Watch as he button holes delegates and participants in the corridors of the Doha Sheraton, the venue of the four-day Follow- up International Conference on Financing for Development.

Civil society representatives, who met over two days in this Gulf state capital, ahead of the official meeting which began on Nov. 29, have been watching with dismay as the draft of the outcome document which is currently on the table still fails to provide the decisive, action-oriented direction that they want to see from the 192-member countries.

"The Bush administration is trying to block the draft document (that has the support of the EU and the majority of members)," says Sylvia Borren of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) which, together with other civil society groups, held an "emergency meeting" on Sunday to strategise.

Pressure is being cranked up through a sign-on online letter to "ignore (the) anti- democratic power-play by the Bush administration" whose first five signatories are Bissio’s Social Watch, Borren’s GCAP, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), UBUNTU, Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale and Stamp out Poverty (Britain).

Most world leaders recognise the urgency of the crises which will hit the most vulnerable countries and people, particularly women and children, unless there is action now, the campaign urges. Some 30 heads of governments and ministers have addressed the plenary over the first two days

The Doha negotiations come at a time of serious global financial crisis and the fear of a shortfall in resources that jeopardise the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions, in the South and the North, and threaten the realisation of the internationally agreed development goals including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Repeatedly activists point out that while the governments of the richest countries bail out banks and private financial institutions with more than three trillion US dollars of public guarantees and funds they are failing to respond decisively to the worsening crisis of food, fuel and finance that has afflicted the majority of peoples in the world.

The current crisis will result in the loss of 20 million jobs by the end of 2009; another 100 million people will be pushed into the informal economy on top of the existing 200 million unemployed and 1.3 billion underemployed workers.

"Many of these will be women," says Borren, "but no one here is talking about the feminisation of poverty!"

So far the international community has proven incapable of raising funds for the poor and dispossessed. "The world’s women’s organisations have to make do with 100 million U.S. dollars annually," Borren told IPS. A few percentage points of the trillions of dollars raised to save financial institutions could cut by two thirds the child mortality in the poorest countries.

Over 250 civil society organisations and networks had gathered in Doha under the theme ‘Investing in people centred development’. "Place people and their needs back at the centre of development," they urged.

"Developing countries should be allowed to take effective democratic ownership and leadership of their domestic policy space that allow national social and economic policies as well as development programmes … without interference from Northern countries or the Bretton Woods institutions," states a declaration issued at the end of the civil society forum on Nov. 28.

Governments were urged to "take the side of women and men, workers, farmers, youth and children to promote environmental sustainability by taking an alternative economic path" to foster the creation of decent work for all, gender equality and equitable growth and fair trade and investment policies as a key step towards poverty eradication.

But calls for a comprehensive U.N.-led review of the international financial economic governance structures through a "major international conference at Summit level" have become a sticking point in the Doha outcome document under negotiation.

The call for reform has been watered down in the outcome document, says Nuria Molina of Eurodad, to include the Bretton Woods institutions which are among the major institutions responsible for the current global crisis.

"They have no legitimacy and no credibility (to start a self-reform process). Trade liberalisation, of the kind pursued under the Doha round, has contributed to increased vulnerability of developing countries in key areas," Molina told IPS.

"The U.N. has a vital role to play," says Ariane Arpa of Oxfam International. "So far the conference is falling well short of our expectations. A failure to address key issues … will mean that it will not provide the concrete and decisive outcome that poor countries had been promised."

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