Internally displaced Afghans collect water from a public water pump next to their tents at a refugee camp, during the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kabul, Afghanistan March 28, 2020. (Mohammad Ismail/REUTERS)

Humanitarian NGOs urge Ottawa to make foreign aid part of its COVID-19 response

A coalition of more than 200 Canadian charities and aid groups is calling on the federal government to make international aid part of its COVID-19 response to ensure that the virus does not rebound and return after it’s been defeated in Canada and other developed nations.

In an open letter sent to International Development Minister Karina Gould, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and four partner coalitions applauded the government’s decision announced Sunday to allocate $159.5 million in funding to support international efforts to fight the pandemic and develop a vaccine.

But the group said Canada could and should do more, including a further increase of Canadian aid and the fast-tracking of funding renewals for multi-year international programs, among other things.

“To keep Canadians safe, we need to address and eliminate the disease wherever it is in the world,” said Nicolas Moyer, CEO of CCIC. “By lending our expertise and support to communities around the world, we can defeat COVID-19.”

Dr. Tanjina Mirza, co-CEO and Chief Programs Officer at Plan International Canada, said while it’s often human nature to look inward during a crisis, the coronavirus knows no borders.

“We are not safe until everyone is safe. We are in it together,” Mirza said.

‘Support global efforts to fight COVID-19′

Panellists discuss Canada’s foreign policy and security during one of the breakout sessions at the Summit on Canada’s Global Leadership in Ottawa on Nov. 27, 2019, (Levon Sevunts/RCI)

Moyer said the Canadian international development sector includes over 2,000 organizations, employs some 14,000 Canadians on a full-time basis, and invests over $5 billion annually to support global sustainable development and humanitarian aid.

“It means that Canadians are around the world helping others and they’re in communities that are far more vulnerable than in Canada,” Moyer said.

And even though humanitarian NGOs recognize the importance of the federal government prioritizing and delivering quick support with respect to the safety of Canadians, Ottawa should also think about how it can support global efforts to fight the pandemic, Moyer added.

“Perhaps, it’s never been more important for us to be conscious of Canada’s contributions to global progress,” Moyer said.

Scaling up Canada’s assistance

A girl wears a protective face mask at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp, during a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the island of Lesbos, Greece April 02, 2020. (Elias Marcou/REUTERS)

The open letter notes that the funding announced by Gould on Sunday came from the existing budget and represents 0.15 per cent of Canada’s federal response to COVID-19.

Additional funding could be rapidly disbursed through a focus on reinforcing global health systems, scaling up the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, which fund small-scale but high-impact projects, as well as expanding existing programs, including those run by Canadian aid groups, and funding the UN’s $2-billion US COVID-19 humanitarian response plan, the letter says.

It also calls on Ottawa to ensure that all Canadian NGOs, which themselves have been hit hard by the economic fallout from the pandemic, are eligible for all federal wage subsidy initiatives and that all initiatives to support Canadians are open to individuals working in international cooperation.

Guillaume Dumas, a spokesperson for Gould’s office, said she “continuously exchanges with our NGOs and humanitarian partners over the best response to provide to COVID-19 as the crisis evolves.”

“Canada is responsive to calls from our humanitarian and development partners and is committed to fight COVID-19 at the global scale,” Dumas said in an email.

Gould participated in a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday with hundreds of representatives of Canadian international development NGOs, he said.

“The sector knows that they have an ally in this fight as we are all committed to combat this pandemic together,” Dumas said.

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