Federal government pledges to match Canadians’ donations to famine relief in Africa

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OTTAWA—Aid agencies are urging Canadians to respond generously to the federal government’s matching fund for famine relief in Africa and the Middle East, calling it a response to the worst humanitarian crisis in decades.

The Liberal government said Monday it would match donations made by Canadians to registered charities to create a famine relief fund for more than 20 million men, women and children who are at risk of starvation.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the fund would support Canadian and international organizations working to provide assistance in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen and neighbouring regions.

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Conrad Sauve, the president of the Canadian Red Cross, said he recently returned from East Africa, where a cholera outbreak is adding to the misery.

“Children can’t go to school and adults can’t go to work because their days are devoted to one thing: survival,” Sauve said.

“Life has become a daily struggle for food and water.”

Gillian Barth, the president of CARE Canada, said the search for water and food is driving people to the brink in affected countries.

“Make no mistake, people have been dying, people are dying and people will continue to die. But thousands, if not millions, of lives can be saved.”

Bibeau said the government’s window to match donations is from March 17 to June 30.

Millions of people in the four affected countries and neighbouring regions are in need of necessities including water, sanitation services, shelter and urgent food assistance, Bibeau added.

Bibeau urged Canadians to donate to the registered Canadian charities of their choice.

“As we gather among friends and family to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, let’s take a moment to think about the role and the difference we want to make in the world.”

Prior to the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy, Oxfam issued a statement suggesting political failure has led to the hunger crisis facing millions of innocent people, and that leadership would be required to resolve it.

The international development agency called directly on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his fellow G7 leaders to fund nearly half — $2.9 billion — of the UN’s $6.3 billion plea to avoid hunger and more deaths.

“Canada’s leadership cannot come at a more critical time,” said Julie Delahanty, executive director of Oxfam Canada.

“A massive injection of aid is needed so that responding organizations like Oxfam can get life-saving supplies to those who need them the most, including women and children, often the most at risk.”

Meg French of UNICEF Canada said the matching funds would allow aid to reach twice as many children and families in the affected areas.

In March, Canada announced $119.25 million in humanitarian funding to respond to food crises in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

As it made the announcement, the federal government said insecurity caused by conflicts and a lack of respect for international humanitarian law hindered the response by groups looking to deliver life-saving assistance on the ground.

“It is a human tragedy that the situation has deteriorated to the extent where we have over 20 million people facing starvation,” Bibeau said at the time.

“This assistance will be disbursed immediately to the most affected areas. We urge all actors in the affected countries to facilitate humanitarian access so that assistance can reach those most in need.”