Aid group calls on Canadians to step up their response to Syrian crisis

As world leaders met Thursday to raise billions in new aid for relief efforts in Syria and surrounding countries, a coalition of Canadian aid agencies said ordinary citizens must also step up.

OTTAWA — As world leaders met Thursday to raise billions in new aid for relief efforts in Syria and surrounding countries, a coalition of Canadian aid agencies said ordinary citizens must also step up.

Canada’s International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is among 70 delegates in London for one-day conference that’s seen about $10 billion committed over several years, but what more the Liberal government may do isn’t likely to be known until the rollout of its overall plan to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Still, with over $650 million in humanitarian assistance pledged to the region since 2011, Canada’s government has done a great deal, said Nicolas Moyer, executive director of the Humanitarian Coalition, an umbrella group of five agencies.

Now Canadians must play their part, he said.

“The reality is we are not able to fundraise … for the Syrian crisis as much as we would like,” he said. “The needs far outstrips the donations coming in, the access to resources that we have from all sources. “

Last fall, as the Syrian refugee crisis dominated headlines, the previous Conservative government committed to matching private donations to overseas aid efforts up to a maximum of $100 million. The program was to expire at the end of December, but the Liberals extended it until the end of this month.

The extension didn’t result in an influx of new cash, Moyer said. Several factors are at play, he suggested, including the nature of the conflict, the domestic response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the work of humanitarian agencies themselves.

“Humanitarian organizations in Canada have solicited their donor bases and those have responded in a very strong way, but after five years of engaging our constituencies and asking them for more, it’s not surprising that there is, across the country, a certain apathy to the topic,” he said.

“We need to be looking at working more closely together at options to engage the public in different ways.”

The UN and regional countries say they need US$9 billion for 2016 alone, as the situation in the region deteriorates. Inside Syria, 70 per cent of the population is without regular access to safe drinking water and two million Syrian children haven’t gone to school in years.

Bibeau is in London following trips to Jordan and Lebanon to observe the impact of Canadian aid dollars to date. She will be talking with other donor countries about what support will look like in the coming months.

Humanitarian and development assistance are expected to be a large part of the Liberals’ plan for Canada’s role in the fight against ISIL.

One theme will focus on helping countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey deal with the 4.6 million people who’ve sought refuge since the war broke out.

Moyer said he also sees a role for Canada in helping facilitate the movement of aid in the region.

“We need to be looking at better and stronger ways to protect civilians,” he said. “There is a big advocacy and diplomatic effort that needs to be done around that.”

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