Thursday, January 24, 2008
Photo: An IDP camp in North Darfur. Photo courtesy Diego Fernandez. To see more photographs please click here
As the humanitarian crisis in Darfur approaches its fifth anniversary, Canadian NGOs continue to make a difference in what is otherwise a bleak situation.
Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan, World Vision and War Child Canada all have programs in Sudan. Together, they are helping tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in refugee camps throughout the region.
Despite their efforts, much more needs to be done to ensure the safety of the estimated 2.2 million IDPs.
The NGOs are hoping the new United Nations / African Union hybrid force (UNAMID) will be able to bring about stability and security in the camps, but there is not much to be optimistic about, to date.
UNAMID has been hampered by rules imposed by the Sudanese government and by a lack of both resources and personnel.
UNAMID has called for 24 helicopters to help carry out the organization’s mandate. To date, no helicopters have been offered by countries with a capacity to loan them.
This greatly affects NGOs’ ability to carry out their own important work, as rebels, militias or bandits have targeted many of the NGOs.
“In October and November we had a couple of major incidents in areas where World Vision works,” said Emmanuel Isch, vice president, international and Canadian programs, World Vision Canada. “We had two of our convoys attacked and we had to scale back activities and staff.”
World Vision has a large-scale water and sanitation project in South Darfur, benefiting 66,000 people in camps and host communities (villages where non-displaced residents continue to reside). Although World Vision’s work has resumed, the security situation remains tense.
“In the past year we have seen a decrease in our ability to access parts of the Darfur region,” said Mr. Isch. “The number of people who need assistance has gone up but our ability to reach them has gone down. Our hope is that the UN will be able to scale up sooner rather than later,” he said.
One of the problems with getting the force up to speed is Sudan’s insistence that UNAMID be comprised of predominately African soldiers.
Glen Pearson (Lib-London North Centre) actually agrees with that. Mr. Pearson - who has been active with the NGO Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan for 10 years - thinks it would be a mistake for western troops to be in Sudan.
“It is my view that if you send in western soldiers it could be a disaster,” said Mr. Pearson. “I have seen al Qaeda acting in the south in the 10 years that I have been there. Osama bin Laden lived there. There is nothing he would love more than to see Canadian or American or European troops there. It would be a rallying call,” said Mr. Pearson.
Meanwhile, as diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict continue, so too does life in the camps.
“People’s greatest frustration is that they are tired of being where they are and they want to go back to their home communities,” said Mr. Isch. “The main problem now is what would they go back to?
Is this generation doomed to grow up in IDP camps?
“Well, if that’s true, it won’t be the first, unfortunately,” said Dr. Eric Hoskins, president of War Child Canada.
“I have been in war zones most of my adult life,” said Dr. Hoskins. “Every war eventually gets resolved. What is frustrating is our inability to help governments and others find peace in Darfur. We have not been able to unlock that box and get the rest of the world to engage this issue.”
War Child Canada runs programs in four IDP camps in West Darfur, primarily providing psychological and social support to children who have been traumatized.
“The most important thing for children and youth living in a war zone is to try to bring them a sense of security and to re-open the schools,” said Dr. Hoskins.
War Child Canada and its local partner NGO offer basic literacy and numeracy training, HIV/AIDS awareness and gender sensitivity training.
Unfortunately, the sad irony is that while equal rights are promoted inside the camps, gender-based violence is a huge problem for women, especially those who leave the camps to collect firewood. Many are raped before they return to their families inside the camps.
Vocational training to both young men and women has proven to be very beneficial, as the rate of employment for graduates is remarkably high. By providing options to boys and young men – some of whom are the sole providers for their families – War Child Canada has been able to keep them from taking up arms and joining one of the many rebel groups.
Keeping the international community engaged in Darfur is a serious problem.
“Is there a win here for Canada?” asked David Swann (Lib MLA-Calgary Mountain View), who went on a two-week hunger strike to raise awareness of the situation in Darfur. “We may not be able to carry the day, but we have to try,” he said.
According to government officials, Canada is engaged in Darfur and will continue to be.
“Since January 2006, CIDA has provided over C$36.6 million in humanitarian assistance to Darfur for people displaced by this conflict,” said a spokesperson for CIDA. “Canada will continue to monitor the situation and respond accordingly to help meet the needs of affected populations.”
Photo: Dr. Eric Hoskins of War Child Canada meets with refugees in Darfur. Photo courtesy War Child Canada.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Photo: Captain Geoff Marshall of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team talks with village elders.The KPRT has funded the construction (by local contractors) of a well with a pumphouse and cistern in Zarkalay, near the Canadian forward operation base in Spin Boldak. Photo courtesy Department of National Defence. Photo by MCpl Kevin Paul, Canadian Forces Combat Camera.
Senior government officials held a press conference in Ottawa yesterday to highlight the progress being made in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, the timing could not have been worse as the good news was overshadowed by two deadly Taliban attacks.
Trooper Richard Renaud, 26, became the 77th Canadian soldier to die in the Afghan conflict after his armoured reconnaissance vehicle was struck by an IED just outside of Kandahar city.
In Kabul, the Taliban staged a bloody suicide attack on the heavily fortified Serena Hotel, killing seven civilians.
If anyone is making progress in Afghanistan, it seems to be the Taliban.
One of the major problems in the country remains the lack of a credible and effective police force.
Although not related to the two recent attacks, senior officials acknowledged that the Afghan National Police (ANP) represent a soft target and are easily accessible to the Taliban. So much so, in fact, that Afghan police are dying at a record rate - 22 police officers are killed for every Afghan or coalition soldier.
Canada has 16 police officers in the country tasked to provide training to the fledgling ANP. Unfortunately, because of the current security situation, regular law enforcement and investigative work is hampered by the more pressing need to learn basic survival skills.
"We're in a combat situation,” said RCMP Chief Supt. David Beer. “Having civilian police operate in that environment demands that they have special training, indeed basic training not unlike soldiers."
While the security situation is critical, officials were quick to point out that the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) continues to make progress.
One senior official at the press conference credited the PRT with drilling a new well and installing a new lighting system at Kandahar University.
As well, three Canadian initiatives currently underway are proving effective: training Afghan judges, providing legal aid, and promoting gender equality. There are now 14 family response units staffed by female police officers tasked to respond to female victims of violence, although officials acknowledged there is still a long way to go.
So while there is good news coming out of Afghanistan, it is tempered by the fact that NATO and Afghan forces have not been able to stop the Taliban from launching suicide attacks or planting IEDs wherever they choose.
Canada will soon have to decide whether to leave combat troops in Kandahar or pull back and do non-combat roles only. The Canadian public is split on the issue and the federal opposition parties are busy trying to promote development projects over combat.
That may be easier said than done.
“You cannot do security without development and governance. You cannot do development without security and governance,” said one senior official at the press conference.