Humanitarian Development In The Press Conferences But Not Enough On The Table At This Year’s G20


It was with an expected degree of irresolution that this year’s G20 Summit concluded in Hamburg, Germany, following discussions held over July 7th and 8th. Questions of Donald Trump’s presidency, in particular, dominated media coverage of the event as the American president engaged in publicized one-on-one meetings with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, allowed his daughter Ivanka to take his seat at the leader’s table, and refused to sign the Paris climate agreement—the only leader of a G20 country to do so.

Issues of a weightier humanitarian nature were, however, never far from hand, as doubt about the efficacy of the G20 itself reverberated through the host city of Hamburg. Over 100,000 protesters met police in both peaceful and violent demonstrations in the week leading up to the summit, and Pope Francis wrote that he was “troubled by the G20 because migrants would be the first to be targeted”in an article for Italy’s la Republica. Calling for stricter crack downs on illegal immigration in a statement issued on the morning of July 7th, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council seemed to reinforce the validity of these concerns early in the summit’s proceedings. As talks came to a close the following evening, small progress had been made.

UK prime minister Theresa May addressed issues relating to those whom the Pope called “the poor, the weak, [and] the isolated” most directly when she called modern slavery “the great human rights issue of our time” in a Saturday press conference, identifying it as a “top priority” for her government. The place of women was also oft referenced as May, Trump, and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau renewed verbal and financial commitments to empowering women throughout the developing world. May promised to work with international partners to ensure more job opportunities; Trump’s administration pledged $50 million to the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative; and Trudeau pledged $20 million. This pattern of financial commitment persisted throughout proceedings, but also failed, at times, to match that of past G20 summits.

Indeed, though seeming to amend the “America First” platform developed during his candidacy by committing $639 million to the food crisis currently underway in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, Trump’s 2017 commitment so far represents only a fraction of the American government’s usual yearly donations. $331 million of the $639 million sum will go to the UN’s World Food Programme. In stark contrast, Obama’s administration had, since 2014, committed approximately $2 billion yearly to that organization alone. Thus, while this year’s donation is what WFP executive director, David Beasley, calls a “godsend,” it represents only one step in a long, hard fight to bring food and water to the 30 million people believed to be in need of emergency assistance right now. The disparity between this and past humanitarian funding does not “reflect the generosity of the American people,” as outgoing WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin said earlier this year in reaction to the Trump administration’s proposed budget.

Awakening Twitter followers with an enthusiastic note regarding the ceasefire negotiated between Russia and America with regards to parts of Syria on July 9th, Trump concluded his first G20 summit by publicizing perhaps the most concrete but also most tenuous result to have come out of this year’s meetings. Based on a memorandum developed by American, Jordanian, and Russian experts, the ceasefire went into effect midday Damascus time on the 9th, but has failed to instill confidence in other G20 governments. As reported in Reuters, Michael Fallon, the British defence secretary, met the news with wary optimism: “We welcome any ceasefire, but let’s see it [first],” he said. This is only the latest in a series of ceasefires to have been implemented in Syria since conflict broke out in the country in 2011.

Before this year’s G20 summit, Pope Francis called for leaders to “commit themselves to substantially reducing levels of conflict” around the world. With summit proceedings over, it is time now for leaders to put negotiations into practice and to follow through on humanitarian sentiments expressed while the cameras were on.

Genevieve Zimantas