Little Alan Kurdi shocked the conscience of Canadians and the world when he was found drowned on a beach. The Syrian toddler’s death highlighted the desperation that refugees face. But in camps across Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, countless other children are suffering as the world looks the other way.
The United Nations Security Council has been unable to muster the will to put an end to the horrific civil war in Syria that has killed 250,000 people and uprooted millions more. Developed countries, including the United States and Canada, have been slow to grant asylum.
Now, to complete the collective callous shrug, the world is refusing even to feed the victims of this war — and is paying a price, in terms of the refugee exodus.
Canada has to bear some of the responsibility. While the Conservative government has provided $503 million in humanitarian assistance, and has offered to match $100 million more in private donations, the money has been spread out over four years. It works out to $150 million a year, at best, and it hardly puts us at the top of the donor list. In fact, our support for the World Food Program actually declined from $367 million (U.S.) in 2012 to $350 million last year, at a time when the need was surging.
Like many other affluent countries, Canada can and should be doing more. As Liberal MP Adam Vaughan put it, “It’s time to dig a little deeper.” That’s something worth addressing in the campaign debates. The Syrian crisis calls for generosity, not just grudgingly doing the minimum.
The United Nations hoped to raise $7.42 billion (U.S.) this year to help many of the seven million Syrians displaced inside the country and four million who have fled it. But UN relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien reports that barely $2.38 billion has been received, just a third of what is needed.
The UN reckoned it would need $4.5 billion alone provide emergency shelter, food, water, medical care and schooling for Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. So far donors have provided only $1.7 billion, or 37 per cent.
This failure to respond has left the World Food Program facing its “worst shortfall” ever, and refugees face yet more suffering.
The WFP has been forced to cut back sharply, reducing the number of Syrian refugees receiving food vouchers from 2.1 million to 1.4 million, a drop of one-third. Even those still getting vouchers now have to get by on less than 50 cents a day in food assistance, half of what they used to get, as the food program stretches its scant funds.
The result? Refugees are begging in the streets. Mothers are giving up meals to feed their children. Entire families aren’t getting the nutrition they need. People face a cold winter in flimsy tents. Children are being pulled out of school to work. Families are marrying off their young daughters.
Little wonder, as Syria’s war worsens, as conditions in the camps deteriorate and as hope fades, that many are now seeking refuge in Europe or beyond, even at the risk of their lives. They are fleeing hunger. That is something within our power to fix.