Ethiopia will need more aid in the future — and Canada can’t afford to ignore it

Ethiopia is experiencing a humanitarian crisis with as many as 200,000 refugees fleeing famine and harsh conditions in the Horn of Africa. Now it is Canada’s turn to say “enough.” More than 4,500 Canadians…

Ethiopia will need more aid in the future — and Canada can't afford to ignore it

Ethiopia is experiencing a humanitarian crisis with as many as 200,000 refugees fleeing famine and harsh conditions in the Horn of Africa. Now it is Canada’s turn to say “enough.”

More than 4,500 Canadians have died in war-torn Syria over the past three years, one-quarter of the estimated 6.6 million Syrian refugees. They haven’t been forgotten. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has personally led humanitarian efforts to help those in need. And Canada has raised more than $1 billion to help with the Syrian relief effort.

This should be the pattern of Canada’s humanitarian efforts.

Aid groups have to pick and choose where to concentrate resources. There are two possible approaches. One, offered by Canada, places even more resources into where the human suffering is worst and where it is most costly.

Canada has announced that it will provide $57 million for food, water, shelter and emergency medical assistance to 45,000 Sudanese refugees arriving in Uganda. In addition, it has pledged $8 million to help stem the spread of the deadly polio virus in Ethiopia and Nigeria.

Canada has been addressing the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia more aggressively. It is already one of the largest givers of aid to that country, and has spent $80 million in its effort to help with the refugee crisis there. Canada’s foreign aid department has also dispatched officials and equipment to Ethiopia to help create a massive center to provide food and shelter for refugees.

Canadian officials say they are seeing a marked increase in the number of malnourished refugees who, desperate for food, are walking farther and more extreme routes to reach their desired destination. Already, many are subject to treacherous conditions – from 40-foot sandstorms, to dense undergrowth, and gangs that extort people off footpaths.

The lack of government control on many of the refugee camps means that most camps are poorly run. Meals are often unsanitary. Conditions are often poor; except for a few thousand – if that – that can be expected. The Canadian announcement, which it says would boost aid to the Ethiopian region of Somali to more than $50 million, would probably be overshadowed by the United States’ pledge of $2 billion to its Horn of Africa famine relief effort.

Let’s not forget that the United States has its own record of forced migration. It is the world’s biggest refugee host.

The Obama administration has increased its refugee intake from 60,000 to 110,000 annually over the past three years. President Barack Obama has committed to resettling 10,000 Syrians on a rolling basis. Canada should do the same, in order to ensure that the nearly 200,000 fleeing drought, war and mismanagement of resources does not fall through the cracks.

“Ethiopia is likely to be Ethiopia’s biggest problem in the near future,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, told the Wall Street Journal. “There are just no ways in which Ottawa and the Canadian government are going to make its supply of food into the barren tundra that it currently is.”

If we do not act, expect Canada to pay a much higher price. Let’s hope Justin Trudeau is willing to pay that price.

Sarah Knapton is the executive director of Oxfam Canada.

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