Displaced kids in humanitarian crises need more money, says Bibeau

Too little of global humanitarian assistance directed to educate children forced to flee their homes, says minister

OTTAWA – The world must do more to educate children forced from their homes as it grapples with the epic level of humanitarian disaster unfolding across the globe, says Canada’s development minister.

Marie-Claude Bibeau said Monday that too little of the already insufficient amount of global humanitarian assistance is being directed to educate children forced to flee their homes.

Unless more resources are redirected, more children will lose out on education and become drawn to extremism, she said.

“It’s a matter of peace and security. If we don’t take care of these children and there’s a risk that, especially if they live in neighbouring countries, if I don’t go to school, they don’t have hope,” Bibeau told The Canadian Press from the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

Bibeau was representing Canada at the first major summit that is trying to reshape the world’s aid architecture to help it better deal with the estimated 125 million people that require humanitarian assistance, including 60 million forced from their homes.

The two-day gathering is an effort to address what the United Nations says is the most pervasive degree of humanitarian disaster since the end of the Second World War.

Despite the soaring needs in places such as Syria and Sub-Saharan Africa, the UN faces a $15-billion funding shortfall in humanitarian funding.

But of the humanitarian money that is actually being spent, only two per cent of it goes towards educating young children, and that’s simply not enough, Bibeau said.

“We have to see it differently,” she said.

“Education is definitely needed when we know that refugees and displaced people stay out of their home for an average of 17 years. We don’t want to lose generations.”

Bibeau highlighted a $274-million Canadian spending announcement, which included contributions to the UN’s central emergency response fund, and to the food emergency in Ethiopia that has affected eight million people.

She is currently overseeing a review of Canada’s foreign aid policy that will eventually lead to a five-year plan that is to be presented to cabinet later this year.

The government recently ended the five-year freeze under the previous Conservative government with a modest two-year, $256-million increase in overseas development assistance in the last federal budget.

But the government is under pressure to radically boost Canadian aid spending to meet the UN target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income.

Bibeau has said the government can’t go that far yet because that would involve injecting another $10 billion into Canada’s aid budget, something that simply isn’t affordable at the moment.

Nicolas Moyer, the executive director the Humanitarian Coalition, an umbrella group of five Canadian aid agencies, welcomed Monday’s spending announcement by the government, saying the current policy review was an opportunity for Canada to do more.

But dealing with the broader global problem will require high-level political input. Moyer was also in Istanbul on Monday and noted, as did many other attendees, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the only G7 leader at the conference.

“Senior political leadership is needed,” said Moyer.

“Globally, human beings spend more on bubble gum then we do on humanitarian assistance.”

Merkel used her opening address to highlight the problems behind aid delivery. “Very often pledges are being made but the money doesn’t get where it is most needed,” she said.

Merkel also decried the widespread disregard for international humanitarian law, which has included the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, and the bombing of hospitals, among other things.

Bibeau said Canada signed on to the conference’s UN-initiative called the “Grand Bargain,” a pact between donor countries and international organizations that seeks to make aid more efficient and attempts to close the $15-billion funding gap.

“Events like this one definitely put a lot of pressure on all the countries to honour their pledges,” said Bibeau.

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