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Big hopes for simple solutions

Faith leaders call on politicians to support the Millennium Development Goals as the World Religions Summit wraps up in Winnipeg

By Samantha Rideout

For all its faults, the upcoming G20 meeting has refocused the world on an incredibly pressing UN commitment: the Millennium Developments Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were designed to be ambitious but realistic. They rely on simple solutions such as delivering malaria nets to mothers or training farmers to use fertilizer.

John W. McArthur, the CEO of the non-profit organization Millennium Promise, was recently in the Uyui region of Tanzania where he saw a solution: a clinic that trains local farmers to be part-time health-care workers. “A guy I met there had a malaria diagnosis test in his pocket, some malaria medication in his cabinet and a cellphone to call a doctor in another town if he came across anything more complicated,” McArthur said. “He had a Grade 6 education and three months of special training. And he was making a huge difference in his village.”

Yesterday, the 80 religious leaders at the World Religions Summit in Winnipeg formally called on the G20 leaders to “take all necessary steps” to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and invest 0.7 percent of Gross National Income (GNI) in development assistance. Together with 12 youth delegates, the religious leaders unanimously signed the final draft of a statement that will be delivered to Prime Minister Stephen Harper by MP Steven Fletcher.

“We know that world governments have fallen more than $20 billion short of what they promised to provide,” said McArthur. “I’m a Canadian, and I’m frustrated and confused as to why my government doesn’t commit more to the MDGs.”

At the moment, Canada assigns about 0.3 percent of its GNI to foreign development, and this percentage will likely decrease now that the government has frozen the budget at $5 billion. By contrast, the United Kingdom announced last month that it would raise its contributions to foreign development from the present 0.5 percent of GNI to 0.7 percent by 2013. Britain would not manage its fiscal troubles on the backs of the poorest people on the planet, the government said.

“It’s not a lack of capacity that’s stopping us from achieving the MDGs,” said Rev. Jim Wallis to the World Religions Summit delegates. “It’s a lack of vision.”

This is where people of faith could come in, said Jim Cornelius of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. “One of the things that politicians throw in our faces is that the public is against what we’re asking of them. They say they wouldn’t survive politically if they didn’t listen to the public.” Churches and other faith communities need to create better public support for work on the MDGs, he continued, and they need to pressure their MPs.

As the World Religions Summit closed with a quiet prayer from a Shinto priest, Cornelius’s final words were still echoing in my mind. “I really believe we can make the impossible possible,” he said.

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