International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan has announced $71-million in humanitarian aid for Sudan and two neighbouring countries that are dealing with a large number of refugees in the wake of a violent crisis.
“The challenges are immense and they must not be faced alone,” Mr. Sajjan told reporters Wednesday on Parliament Hill.
“The situation is deteriorating and the Sudanese people still need our help.”
He said the funds will flow through agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross, as well as non-governmental organizations, to provide basic food, water and health services.
Nearly $31-million will go toward Sudan, while slightly more will be sent to South Sudan, which seceded from that country in 2011.
Canada will also send $10-million to the Central African Republic, as part of funds that will flow to at least 14 groups ranging from the World Food Programme to Doctors Without Borders.
Mr. Sajjan said Ottawa set aside this funding for the region before the conflict started, but will now speed up the delivery of that cash to help people fleeing violence.
He said Canada will be pledging more money after he makes a visit to the region, likely at the end of this month for the African Development Bank’s general meetings in Egypt. Mr. Sajjan added he hopes to visit Chad and speak with officials from the African Union, which is based in Ethiopia.
By that point, he said it should be clearer which countries have ended up hosting people who are displaced and trying to find safety.
“Once we have that assessment and the UN comes up with their appeal, we’ll put in additional funding,” he said.
Mr. Sajjan said the funding is flexibly structured so groups can scale up existing programs to meet huge flows of people fleeing a devastating escalation in violence that started in Sudan on April 15.
A battle for control of the country erupted after months of escalating tensions between the military and a rival paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, turning the capital of Khartoum into a war zone and leading Western countries to evacuate their citizens.
Defence Minister Anita Anand said Wednesday that Canada had given up on trying to use a military airport in Khartoum for evacuation flights because of logistical and safety issues. Instead, the military is focusing on helping people who make the perilous journey to Sudan’s coastline.
“We still have two ships off the coast of Sudan and we’re working very closely with Global Affairs Canada and with our allies to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians,” she told reporters.
The UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, arrived in the country Wednesday where he said he is seeking guarantees from the warring sides for the safe passage of humanitarian aid. He acknowledged criticism that the UN has been slow to respond, with its agencies saying they have scant funding and limited staff.
Even before the fighting erupted last month, one-third of the population in Sudan relied on humanitarian assistance.
Both sides have entered into another ceasefire, which, like previous agreements, has not actually quelled the fighting.
Mr. Sajjan said it was “disturbing” how quickly the conflict unfolded after Canada’s work with allies to try bringing about peace in the region in recent years. He said large groups of desperate people bring on not only hunger and suffering, but also political instability that can create more crises.
“It’s important to put it into context for Canadians what the reality is on the ground, and why this funding is so important.”
He said that the UN only gets a fraction of the funding it needs to safely house people who have fled violence. The organization said it has just 15 per cent of the money it needs to support people in Chad. “Canada does step up for our portion,” Mr. Sajjan insisted.
The conflict has so far killed 550 people, including civilians, and wounded more than 4,900. The fighting has displaced at least 334,000 people inside Sudan, and sent tens of thousands more to neighbouring countries – Egypt, Chad, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia, according to UN agencies.
Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen said that Sudan hosted a large number of refugees from other countries who now have to flee to a third country just to be safe.
Among the recipients of Wednesday’s cash is Save The Children Canada, whose humanitarian head Dalia Al-Awqati said the money is needed to address a “critical” situation
“With the conflict bringing Khartoum to a stop, the limited supply of food and essentials is driving up prices for available commodities to two, three or four times their market value,” she wrote in an statement.
Ms. Al-Awqati said Ottawa should boost its funding and continue its diplomatic efforts to help African leaders broker a solution and push for humanitarian access.
“Canada is well-positioned to have a holistic response to this crisis.”
Mr. Sajjan’s parliamentary secretary, Anita Vandenbeld, said the aid workers whom Canada is funding are not just helping people but providing key information on how Ottawa can best respond. She said three World Food Programme workers were killed last month in Darfur.
“These are the aid workers who are the last out and the first back in. They put themselves in the front line because they care deeply, and they have strong knowledge and partnerships on the ground,” she said.
Ms. Vandenbeld and her colleagues stressed that women will be key to finding a lasting resolution to the crisis, including women Canada has trained to act as peace negotiators.
“We can’t just look at women as victims. We have to look at them as the leaders and the solutions that come from the women’s organizations who are very strong in the region.”