A Syrian refugee woman holds a bag of gloves, due to coronavirus spread, in al-Wazzani area in southern Lebanon, March 14, 2020. (Ali Hashisho /REUTERS)

Humanitarian groups call for more international aid in new Liberal budget

As Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland prepares to present to Parliament the Liberal budget on Monday, Canadian humanitarian groups are urging the Trudeau government to increase spending on international assistance in line with its increased spending on tackling the pandemic at home.

Danny Glenwright, president and CEO of Save the Children Canada, said his organization is joining other humanitarian NGOs in Canada in asking the federal government to set aside one cent from each dollar spent on the domestic response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the rapidly growing international assistance needs.

The United Nations estimated that nearly 170 million people needed humanitarian assistance last year. In 2021, this global number is expected to rise to 235 million, with nearly half of them being children, Glenwright said.

“We’ve all had a tough year but there are degrees of challenge,” Glenwright said.

“And while we in Canada feel very hard done by – and for lots of good reasons, it’s been very challenging – in places of the world where there is conflict, in places of the world that are already feeling in very major ways the impacts of climate change, this pandemic has brought an added layer of stress and trauma and challenges unlike anything we’re feeling in Canada.”

People walk with their belongings in a flooded area after the Nile river overflowed after continuous heavy rain which caused thousands of people to be displaced in Bor, central South Sudan, on Aug. 8, 2020. (Akuot Chol/AFP via Getty Images)

Combined with conflicts and climate change, the pandemic is threatening to reverse decades of gains in international development, said Glenwright, who is also a board member of the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH) and the Humanitarian Coalition, an umbrella group of 12 Canadian humanitarian NGOs.

“We think if we can increase our spending to one per cent of our overall pandemic response, we might be able to shore up some of those gains and make sure that people are vaccinated in other parts of the world, that we can get kids back in school, that we can reopen the hospitals and provide sexual and reproductive health services, and provide food assistance, and make sure that we’re treating undernutrition in places where there is risk of famine right now,” he said.

Glenwright’s message echoes a similar call made by Cooperation Canada, the national association of international development and humanitarian organizations formerly known as the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.

Speaking to Radio Canada International in February, Cooperation Canada CEO Nicolas Moyer urged the government to increase its contribution to foreign aid to $7.8 billion in the upcoming federal budget.

Canada’s investment in international assistance of $6.2 billion in 2018-19 is equivalent to just 0.27 percent of the gross national income (GNI), well below international commitments and the contributions of peer countries, Moyer said.

Canada is at the lowest point in 50 years in terms of the ratio of its international assistance to the GNI, he added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a closing press conference following the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Glenwright said the Trudeau government is well aware of the urgent humanitarian needs that exist globally and has been “a very strong supporter” of international aid, especially related to its feminist international assistance policy.

“We’re very happy with the government’s commitment thus far to things like girls’ education, sexual and reproductive health services and also support for COVAX, the international dissemination of vaccines,” Glenwright said.

But Canada can and should do more, he added.

Humanitarian NGOs also want the Trudeau government to leverage Canada’s soft power on the world stage in forums like the upcoming G7 summit and take a leadership role in advocating its partners to spend more on international assistance as well, Glenwright said.

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