Canada will provide $12-million to aid groups on the front lines of the world's largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where war has crippled the economy, left millions on the brink of famine and caused one of the most deadly cholera epidemics in modern history.
The announcement, to be made by International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau on Friday, comes even as Canada continues to benefit from the sale of light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been widely accused of using famine as a weapon in neighbouring Yemen as they blockade shipments in service of the war they're waging against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government continues to provide new humanitarian funding to respond to the needs of conflict-affected Yemeni people. Friday's announcement of $12.1-million in aid brings Canada's total humanitarian assistance for Yemen to $65-million since March, 2017. A senior government official indicated more funding could be announced for the poor Middle Eastern country this year.
"Sadly, the conflict continues in Yemen, and its people – particularly women and children – continue to suffer greatly. Canada remains committed to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance support to our partners to help the Yemeni people," Ms. Bibeau is expected to say in a statement on Friday.
Canada faces accusations, though, that it's playing both sides of the conflict.
The Canadian government and Canadian industry profit from military sales to the Saudis – primarily through its $15-billion sale of weaponized armoured vehicles to Riyadh. A Canadian Crown corporation that brokered the deal gets an unspecified cut of the proceeds, as does General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, which makes them.
"However welcome and necessary aid to Yemen may be, it does not obscure Canada's role as a key enabler of the Saudi regime," said Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares.
"Canadian arms exports to the chief instigator of one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time should be subject to scrutiny of the highest order, yet Ottawa consistently attempts to sanitize them with dubious rationalizations." Canadian-made combat vehicles have been photographed and filmed being deployed by the Saudis in the fighting in Yemen.
Assisting Saudi interventions in Yemen was an explicit justification for approving Canadian arms exports to Riyadh when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government approved the $15-billion arms deal in 2016.
The Department of Global Affairs said in its rationale for the sale that Canadian light-armoured vehicles will help Riyadh in its efforts at "countering instability in Yemen." The Saudi government pledged $2-billion (U.S.) for Yemen's central bank on Wednesday to help stabilize the country's economy, one day after the Yemeni Prime Minister pleaded for funds to boost the rial and help stave off hunger.
The majority of the new Canadian funding – $6.5-million (Canadian) – will go to the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide emergency food supplies, such as flour, salt and sugar, to the most needy people across Yemen. Stephen Anderson, WFP country director in Yemen, said more than three-quarters of the Yemeni population is in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, while 8.4 million people of the country's 29 million citizens are on the brink of famine.
"This Canadian support is timely and will be very well received because … we don't have any other contributions on the horizon and the situation has been extremely dire," Mr. Anderson said.
In addition to humanitarian funding, Mr. Anderson urged Canada to support a peace process in Yemen by pressuring all parties to find a solution to the crisis.
The United Nations Population Fund, known as the UNFPA, will also receive $2-million to assist Yemeni women and girls who have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence. The money will help the organization reach nearly 800,000 Yemeni women and girls, according to UNFPA Yemen representative Anjali Sen. For instance, she said Canadian-funded dignity kits will provide women with basic hygiene supplies and the traditional Muslim clothing they need to comfortably leave their homes.
"We provide an abaya and a scarf because that enables them to then have the mobility to go out and seek other humanitarian assistance," Ms. Sen said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross will receive $2.5-million to repair water systems, provide food supplements and support health-care facilities in Yemen. A cholera outbreak has infected one million people, further straining Yemen's already devastated health-care system. Canada will also provide $1.15-million to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to help administer its Yemen humanitarian fund.
OCHA will release its humanitarian response plan for Yemen next week, which is expected to include a new international appeal for funding. Last year's $2.3-billion (U.S.) funding appeal is still short $691-million, according to OCHA's website.