THE BLOG

Canada Should Not Forget the Humanitarian Crises That Aren't Making Headlines

10/17/2014 05:06 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST

The world is facing five major humanitarian crises: Ebola, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Syria. The global humanitarian system has become dangerously overburdened as it faces widening conflicts and crises. According to the UN refugee agency, there has been a "dramatic" increase in mass displacement in 2014, with numbers reaching levels not seen since the end of the Second World War.

Canada must continue to work with the international community to provide lifesaving humanitarian aid, and must not forget the crises which are not making headlines around the world.

In September, the United Nations Security Council, in its first emergency meeting on an acute public health crisis, declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a threat to international peace and security. The number of Ebola cases and deaths in the current epidemic has already exceeded the totals for all previous outbreaks combined: a total of 8,997 cases in seven countries (Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain and United States) and 4,493 deaths.

At least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have lost one or both parents to Ebola since the start of the outbreak, and many children are being rejected by their surviving relatives for fear of infection.

In August, the conflict in Iraq was raised to a level-3 humanitarian crisis, as the security and humanitarian situation had dramatically deteriorated as a result of ongoing attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which had declared a caliphate spanning both Iraq and Syria.

ISIL has demonstrated "absolute and deliberate disregard for human rights". In response, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to support the government and people of Iraq.

The Government of Canada introduced a motion calling on Parliament to support its decision "to contribute Canadian military assets to the fight against ISIL, and terrorists allied with ISIL, including air strike capability for a period of up to six months."

The opposition parties did not support the Government's motion, and continue to call for more humanitarian aid, as 1.8 million people have been displaced since early August. Testimony gathered from displaced civilians in northern Iraq reveals disturbing accounts of abduction, killing, and sexual violence perpetrated against women and children. Thousands of children have witnessed executions and torture, and require immediate attention to support their mental health.

Although Canada's attention remains focused on Ebola and Iraq, we cannot forget the level-3 crises in Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.

Canadians must also not forget Syria, where over 195 000 people have been killed, one million have been injured, 6.5 million have been internally displaced since 2011, and over five million children have been exposed to the horrors of war.

Will Canada resettle more Syrian refugees than the 1300 promised? Sweden has taken in 30,000 Syrians, and Germany has granted permanent and temporary protection to 38,000. Will the Government continue its financial support to the people affected by the crisis in Syria, and how will it work with its partners in the region to ensure that the $50 million allocated to the No Lost Generation initiative are spent in the most effective way?

In October, Minister Baird promised up to $10 million in humanitarian aid to provide services and treatment for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. But today, Minister Paradis only announced $8 million for UNICEF's project to provide services and treatment for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. What does the government expect to do with the remaining $2 million?

In South Sudan, violence has displaced 1.8 million people, and 10,000 have died in 2014 as a result of conflict and disease outbreaks. While the food security situation has improved slightly, an estimated 235,000 children under five are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year. Moreover, the UN has received more reports of grave child rights violations than in all of 2012 and 2013 combined.

Will the Government of Canada make a second humanitarian contribution to South Sudan to avoid yet another human catastrophe? Moreover, given that nutrition is one of the key pillars of the Every Woman Every Child Initiative, it is counterproductive to wait until South Sudan is classified as a severe famine before intervening.

By June 2014, over 140,000 people had been killed in CAR; 80 percent of the Muslim population has been driven from their homes or murdered. The fighting had left 2.5 million people needing humanitarian aid.

But there is some good news to share. On November 3rd, children in CAR will return to school en masse for the first time in two years. The question that remains is whether Canada will contribute to the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR.

Children facing level-3 emergencies in CAR, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, and West Africa are waiting. Our government has a moral responsibility to do what it can.

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