The head of Unicef's operations in Jordan says Canadian taxpayer dollars are making an important difference for refugee children displaced by the Syrian war, but a massive international funding gap is pushing the region to its limit as it deals with the seven-year-old crisis.
Robert Jenkins, a Canadian who works as the United Nations Children's Fund representative in Jordan, was in Ottawa on Tuesday to brief government officials on the status of the organization's Canadian-funded projects in the Middle Eastern country. While he applauded Canada for its support, which has helped improve access to education, water and protection for Syrian refugee children in Jordan, he said neighbouring countries are still overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis.
"The Canadian government has been critical in Unicef's work and Unicef's achievements in Jordan and responding to the Syria crisis in general," Mr. Jenkins said.
"Of course, we continue to have funding gaps throughout our program in Jordan, Syria and in other neighbouring countries, and the scale of this crisis is unique. The millions of children that are affected are truly pushing all governments, Unicef and the UN to their limit."
Of the more than five million Syrian refugees worldwide, around 660,000 have fled to Jordan, according to the UN refugee agency. Unicef estimates that nearly one-third – 212,000 – of Syrian refugees in Jordan are school-aged children, 80,000 of which are not in school.
In January, the UN refugee agency appealed for $4.63-billion (U.S.) to meet the needs of Syrian refugees and the communities hosting them in neighbouring countries. As of April, only $433-million – or 9 per cent – of the amount requested had been received.
Canada has contributed $53-million (Canadian) in multiyear humanitarian and development assistance funding to Unicef in Jordan. Mr. Jenkins said Canadian funding has helped enroll 20,000 children in school over the past two years. He specifically noted Canada's support for the establishment of about 200 double-shift schools, which maximize access to education by providing morning and afternoon schooldays for children while Jordan builds more schools.
"That means we can use the same desk twice, morning and afternoon. While the infrastructure expands, it is an excellent way to accelerate progress quickly," Mr. Jenkins said.
Canada also supports Unicef's Makani learning centres. From educational programs aimed at transitioning children into the regular school system to psycho-social support for refugee children who fled the horrors of the Syrian war, the centres cater to a diverse set of needs for children not in enrolled in school. International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau visited one of the 223 Makani centres in Jordan in February.
Jordan is home to the world's largest Syrian refugee camp, known as Zaatari. With a population of about 80,000 people, the camp is the equivalent of Jordan's fourth-largest city. Since Zaatari opened in 2012, residents have relied on Unicef to truck water into the camp, but that expensive process is about to end. Mr. Jenkins said a campwide sewage system, supported in part by the Canadian government, will be finished in a couple of months.
"In a very congested refugee camp, these are big transport trucks of water coming down through these very narrow lane ways. It can pose specific risks," Mr. Jenkins said.
"By now providing water right to homes, it will be provided in a much safer way. Women or anyone will not have to travel outside their home to access water."
Mr. Jenkins said Unicef is hopeful it will be able to partner with Canada on more projects that promote the rights of women and girls. Under the government's newly branded "feminist" foreign aid policy, the government says that at least 95 per cent of Canada's international assistance spending will focus on equality and empowerment by 2021-22.