President Barack Obama flanked by world leaders at the NATO Summit in Chicago

Although talks on ending the war in Afghanistan and how to manage the debt crisis in Europe dominated proceedings at the recently concluded NATO and G8 Summits, world leaders also addressed pertinent issues related to our work such as global food insecurity, the Syrian crisis and reforms in Burma.

Burma

In the wake of the U.S. announcement that it will be easing investment sanctions on Burma, G8 leaders praised the remarkable efforts by President Thein Sein and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in delivering democratic reforms. G8 leaders expressed their commitment to secure lasting and irreversible reform. They also pledged their support for peace in ethnic areas, national reconciliation, and furthering democracy.

What was left out from the statement is the ongoing fighting in Kachin state and the continued control by the military. While it is right to praise progress, the remaining challenges should have been given equal attention.

Syria

Unsurprisingly, there were no major declarations related to Syria, but rather platitudes that reflected the international stalemate over what to do next. G8 leaders urged the Syrian government and opposition forces to adhere to their commitments under a joint UN-Arab League peace plan and cease violence.

Despite the presence of United Nations observers to monitor a ceasefire brokered last month, violence persists and the UN estimates that at least 9,000 have died since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011. President Obama told the leaders at the G8 summit that President Bashar al-Assad should leave power to pave the way towards an inclusive political transition and pointed to Yemen as a model. But, it is difficult to envision such a scenario unfolding in Syria when Assad benefits from the backing of Russia, one of the G8, and China at the UN Security Council; the opposition remains divided and has failed to present itself as a credible alternative to the current regime; and the international consensus on backing a peace plan that has so far failed to quell the violence. In spite of its limitations, Annan’s peace plan seems to be the best option for a political solution at the moment.

The NATO summit echoed sentiments expressed by G8 leaders that Annan’s peace plan was the best way forward. In the wake of NATO’s intervention in Libya, questions were raised ahead of the summit as to whether the organization had any plans to do the same in Syria. In February, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the body will not intervene there. Instead, Rasmussen argued that Annan’s plan remained the best platform for finding solutions to the Syrian crisis.

Food Security and the Sudans

Most significantly, ahead of the G8 and NATO summits, President Obama unveiled the “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition” and announced that private companies had pledged more than $3 billion to boost agriculture productivity as a way to fight hunger. With western governments adopting austerity measures, monetary support from the 45 companies represent what G8 leaders hope will be the missing link to achieve transformational development in developing countries.

While aid agencies welcomed the move, they cautioned that the initiative may divert attention away from the G8’s failure to deliver on previous commitments. Oxfam warned that the new alliance focuses heavily on the role of the private sector to tackle the complex challenges of food insecurity and called instead for G8 leaders to keep the promises they have already made to help developing countries invest in sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. The role of the private sector is important but they will not be able to make up for the G8’s broken promises.

At the 2009 G8 Summit, world leaders committed themselves to spending $22 billion in support of agriculture and food security initiatives over the next three years to lift 50 million people out of wold hunger by 2015. Three year later only 58% of the commitments have been disbursed.

The most recent conversation comes at a time of increased food insecurity across Africa, particularly in Sudan and South Sudan. The size of the food insecure population has increased from 4.5 million people in March to 4.7 million in April, due to increased conflict and current restriction on humanitarian access in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states located at Sudan’s border with the South. Food insecurity is of greatest concern in areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in South Kordofan, where about 200,000-250,000 people now face crisis to emergency levels of food insecurity.

Food insecurity in border areas will increase with the beginning of the rainy season and could further deteriorate should conflict levels escalate. The solution to this food insecurity however will not come from any private sector initiatives, but rather pressure toward the Sudanese regime lifting its blockade on humanitarian access and ending its indiscriminate bombing of civilians. The solution to this food insecurity however will not come from any private sector initiatives, but rather pressure toward the Sudanese regime lifting its blockade on humanitarian access and ending its indiscriminate bombing of civilians.

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