Canadian Prime Minister and 2010 G8 President Stephen Harper summarized the Muskoka Initiative: Maternal, Newborn and Under-Five Child Health by exclaiming, ``We have been successful.”

While the media has focused on this ``success,” with the main debate criticizing the exclusion of abortion from the maternal health dialogue, following Prime Minister Harper’s refusal to fund safer abortions in developing countries, a
critical issue has yet to be questioned:

Why are we praising a declaration that is nothing more than a regurgitation of the very same commitments made 20 years ago?

While millions of global citizens, particularly in industrialized countries, have been following the merits and failures of this so-called new initiative, most working in the area of international development are experiencing an odd form of deja vu ― have these promises on maternal health and under-five child mortality not been promised, and confirmed, and reaffirmed, and yet again publicly time and again, since the Millennium Declaration first surfaced in 1990?

Undoubtedly, the need for focusing on maternal health and incidences of deaths among children is inarguable. The World Bank indicates that women in Africa run a one in 22 chance of dying from pregnancy, in comparison to one in 6,700 chances for women in the high income countries.

Around 200 million women suffer from birth-related complications each year, 99 percent of whom live in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia while another 10 million children under five die every year.

Shocked? Let’s take a look …

On September 8, 1990, the United Nations General Assembly drafted the Millennium Declaration, declaring that development assistance must be targeted toward helping the lesser-developed states arise from the grips of poverty.

In particular, there must be a commitment to the determent of preventable diseases, including pregnancy-related death. Out of the Millennium Declaration came the Millennium Development Goals ― eight goals that would be achieved by 2015.

Goal 4, to reduce child mortality, seeks to ``reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality ratio.” Goal 5, to improve maternal health, aims to ``reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio” and to ``achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health.” This is strikingly familiar to commitments made a week ago?

Some 23 international organizations and 192 states were signatories to the Declaration, including all members of the G8. While the Muskoka Declaration committed the G8 to ``undertake to mobilize as of today $5 billion in additional funding for disbursement over the next five years,” those of us remembering the Millennium Declaration are shaking our heads, knowing that the objectives set out in 1990 are less than five years away. Success or too little, too late?

Yet while the Millennium Development Goals were the first objectives in the post-Cold War era to recognize the need for a focus on maternal health, this is not the only display of the commitments.

At the 2002 G7 Kananaskis Summit in Canada, the African Action Plan was launched. The plan was a partnership between G7 countries and Africa. In particular, they set out to ensure that no African country would fail to meet the MDGs owing to a lack of resources. Canada was to double its financial assistance to Africa between 2003-04 and 2008-09 to help achieve all MDGs, including maternal health.

At the 2005 G8 Gleneagles Summit, there was a ``renewed commitment to Africa.” At Gleneagles, G8 leaders endorsed a plan to double their aid to Africa to $50 billion annually by 2010, for poverty alleviation and for the prevention and treatment of contagious diseases. The plan called for debt cancellation of at least $40 billion, owed by 18 of the world’s poorest states, of which the majority are African.

In 2007, at the Heiligendamm G8 Summit, member states agreed to allocate $60 billion, of which $30 billion would come from the U.S., to fight tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria in Africa. African and Western aid organizations and NGOs came out in droves to protest against what they called a futile attempt to repackage the old and broken promises made to the beleaguered continent.

Indeed, many promises made to Africa have been broken over the years. The 2009 OECD monitoring report confirms that ``… overall aid to Africa has not kept pace with the ambitious Gleneagles pledge …”

With less than five years away from the turn to 2015, with a renewed commitment to Africa, and a ``sudden” recognition that maternal health and under-five children need to be a priority. While Stephen Harper might firmly said the Muskoka Declaration a success, on the contrary, it highlights the complete abandonment of past promises.

For every minute you took reading this article, one child died of malnutrition. The clock is ticking. We don’t need more declarations, summits, and empty promises. While the Muskoka Declaration isn’t actually anything different, let’s hope the path now taken by the G8 member states ― an actual commitment to the declaration ― is.

Leah McMillan is a Ph.D. candidate at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and a Balsillie fellow at The Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). Hany Besada is a senior researcher at CIGI.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.