When Germany takes up the European Union presidency in January, German development and environment organizations expect not just talk, but action when it comes to fighting poverty and AIDS around the world.
Germany is under pressure to show results in the fight against poverty
This summer, Germany will host a summit of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. It's high time for the country to take action to solve some of the world's most pressing problems, according to German non-governmental organizations.
In 1999, Germany was likewise host to a G8 summit, which saw the groups members discuss a debt relief initiative -- led by Irish rocker Bono of the band U2 -- intended to encourage the world's richest states to scrap debts incurred by the world's poorest countries. Little, however, has changed since then.
German Minister for Cooperation and Development Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who met with some of the NGOs recently in Berlin, is hoping for "resolutions with long-term perspectives."
Social Democrat Wieczorek-Zeul has been in office for eight years -- long enough to see how slow-moving the global community is in reaching the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education by the target date of 2015.
Wieczorek-Zeul has managed to markedly step up the development budget in Germany. Next year, the Development Ministry will have 4.5 billion euros (nearly $6 billion) to work with, up 300 million from this year. She said the German government is upholding its commitment of providing 0.51 percent of its gross domestic product in development aid by the year 2010. It currently stands at 0.36 percent.
Looking toward Germany's EU presidency and the G8 summit, Wieczorek-Zeul said she expected constructive cooperation from partners.
"Strengthening government leadership is important, as is creating more transparency in the extraction of raw materials," she said. "We are aiming for long-term investments, also in the private sector, and one of the main topics of the G8 summit will be the fight against HIV/AIDS." Fighting AIDS among women will be a primary goal, she added.
Ten years ago, women made up about 12 percent of those infected with the deadly virus. Now, the number stands at 50 percent worldwide, she said, and 60 percent in Africa.
Claudia Warning of the non-governmental organization Venro said that universal access to medication is essential.
"Only one-quarter of those in need of medication have access to it," she said. "Prevention is also key, because we cannot even keep up with producing enough medicine."
Climate change also affects development
Germany's Deutscher Naturschutzring wants to see environmental protection be a part of development aid and fighting poverty.
"We are demanding that the protection of bio-diversity become a guiding principle of European development aid," said Manfred Niekisch, deputy head of the enviromental protection group. "After all, climate changes and the loss of bio-diversity are also fundamental problems in fighting poverty," he added.
Representatives from anti-globalization organization Attac told Wieczorek-Zeul at the meeting with NGOs that the G8 summit presents a basic injustice in and of itself.
"The G8 members have established themselves as a kind of world government," said Peter Wahl of Attac. "The countries address global problems, even though they represent only 13 percent of the world's population. That leaves a major hole in the principles of democracy and also reflects what those G8 leaders ultimately end up agreeing upon."
Attac, along with trade unions, is thus planning an "alternative summit" in April to address global urgent problems from a different perspective.