Mr. Gary Schellenberger (Perth—Wellington, CPC)
Mr. Chair, I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in this debate.
Canada has always played an important role in responding to global crises and tragedy. With appropriate, timely, and effective assistance, our contributions aim to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain the dignity of those affected by conflicts and natural disasters.
As we know, politically motivated violence and ethnic conflict have gripped South Sudan for more than four months. If the poignant images alone have not been enough to make us want to help, the number of casualties and victims makes it clear that we must.
It is estimated that between 10,000 and 40,000 people have died in the violence. Today some 817,000 South Sudanese are displaced within the country, and over 270,000 have fled as refugees to Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda.
It is impossible for us to understand what it must be like to be so afraid and so desperate that the only hope is to flee one's home and leave everything behind, yet that is reality for thousands of South Sudanese civilians, people who just three short years ago voted overwhelmingly for independence and rejoiced in the birth of their new nation.
South Sudan's new beginning formally ended 22 years of civil war that caused the country to have some of the worst development and humanitarian indicators in the world. An estimated 90% of the country's 10.8 million people live below the poverty line. An estimated seven million people in South Sudan are at risk of food insecurity. The maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world: for every 100,000 births, over 2,000 mothers die. The child mortality rate is no better, with 106 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
These are some of South Sudan's regular development challenges, the challenges that made Canada want to invest development dollars there in the first place. They are among the reasons that our development programming in South Sudan centres on saving the lives of mothers and children and on improving agricultural capabilities so that people can get the food they need and earn a living off the land.
Now South Sudan faces challenges of another kind. The conflict has caused the country to plunge deeper into instability, and that concerns us.
We worry for South Sudan's political and economic health, already fragile to begin with. We worry for its people, already struggling to overcome the challenges they face.
In response to the dramatically increasing needs and the international humanitarian system that has ranked South Sudan among the highest priorities, United Nations agencies and international NGOs have ramped up their presence and widened their operations considerably throughout the country.
Overall, despite being hindered in their efforts to assist people by the continuing insecurity and looting, humanitarian agencies are increasing their capabilities and responses to the crisis. They are particularly focused on strengthening responses outside of the capital, Juba, where there have been considerable unmet needs.
During this crisis, Canada once again stepped up its humanitarian efforts as part of the international community. On April 1, the Minister of International Development announced nearly $25 million in new funding in response to 2014 appeals from the United Nations, the International Red Cross movement, and Canadian non-governmental organizations. The money will help to get people the food they need, put a roof over their head, give them increased access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities and, for the ill or wounded, access to emergency medical care.
We hope that our efforts, in co-operation with those of our friends and partners, will contribute to putting an end to this spiralling violence and ensure a calm and peaceful transition process in South Sudan.
Recipients of our funding have included the United Nations World Food Programme, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Humanitarian Air Service, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Relief Canada, Médecins Sans Frontières Canada, and World Vision Canada. Based on assessments, these organizations are best positioned to ensure that people are physically safe and receive proper health care, and that they have food, water, and shelter. It is worth pointing out that their work is not easy. A humanitarian mission never is, particularly not under a black cloud of violence as is the case in South Sudan.
In January, Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that thousands of South Sudanese were going without help because of interference in humanitarian activities. That should never happen. Intentionally preventing access to life-saving assistance is deplorable, much like acts of violence against those working to keep civilians safe. Since the conflict began, three humanitarian workers have been killed, caught in the crosshairs of a conflict had that nothing to do with them or with an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese. Canada condemns such cowardly attacks, and calls for full, safe, and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations in South Sudan and in all other places where humanitarian workers are engaged in life-saving activity.
Few places are more challenging for aid workers than South Sudan. In another few weeks, the rainy season will begin, cutting off up to 60% of the country. Road access in key locations of humanitarian response is minimal or impossible from May until November. Canada has offered considerable support since the conflict began, and will continue to pay close attention to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep South Sudan civilians safe from this crisis.
Subtopic: Situation in the Republic of South Sudan