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Lauren Roulston • Jun 10, 2024

Minister Ahmed Hussen joins CHUO for a conversation on humanitarian aid for Sudan, DRC, and development funding for Benin.



You can listen along to this conversation as it was heard on Black on Black:


LR: Minister Ahmed Hussen, thank you so much for joining me in the studio today.

AH: Thank you so much for having me.

LR: Today we’re going to be talking about Canada’s latest support for Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Benin and how these funds that you’ve announced are going to be helping civilians, who are the people who have really been bearing the brunt of these ongoing conflicts.

So, in April you announced that Canada’s going to be providing these funds, and there’s a lot to cover so I want to start with the aid for Sudan, that’s $132 million for people who have been displaced and affected by the civil war there.

It is important that we discuss the conditions that the Sudanese people are facing, as civilians are the ones suffering from these conflicts. These are things like mass displacement, disease, acute hunger that you’ve described as “famine-like,” so can you tell me a bit about what we’re seeing there with the civil war and help us understand the magnitude of this humanitarian crisis.

AH: Well, a very large number of Sudanese people have been displaced due to this horrific conflict. Over 6 million Sudanese have been displaced within Sudan and 1.8 million have been displaced outside of Sudan into neighbouring countries like Chad, Egypt, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Ethiopia, even as far as Uganda.

What we have done is we responded to the global appeal to do something about this and we responded last year with an allocation of $170 million, and this year with an additional $132 million.

Out of that, out of the $132 million, just over $100 million is for humanitarian aid to assist the Sudanese people inside Sudan and in neighbouring countries with food, water, sanitation, health support and emergency services.

And then the almost $32 million is for development. Again, to address challenges with respect to the displaced Sudanese people in neighbouring countries and to support those host communities who are hosting hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees.

On top of that, we also announced sanctions on the top perpetrators of the worst human rights violations that are being felt by Sudanese civilians in Sudan and that’s Canada again, attempting to do it’s part to hold those people accountable, those who are causing suffering to the Sudanese people.

LR: And I again want to get back into the breakdown of these funds a little bit further in a second, but first I want to touch on what you said about the 1.8 million who’ve fled to neighbouring countries like Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, South Sudan. I want to know if you can tell me about the broader implications of mass displacement crises, how it extends outside of Sudan.

AH: Yes, you know, for the Sudanese who have fled Sudan into neighbouring countries, they’ve fled a lot of times to host communities that are themselves going through serious challenges with respect to food security, climate change, and so when you speak to the South Sudanese government, they’ll tell you how big of a challenge this is, hosting so many Sudanese refugees when they themselves have been dealing with a lot of challenges with respect to droughts and extreme weather patterns coming out of climate change.

The same goes for Chad, a lower-income country that has been struggling with food security and high rates of malnutrition for children. They need help to host these Sudanese refugees and that’s why a lot of the funding is also going to the neighbours so that we can make them resilient and be able to continue to do the right thing which is to host these refugees from Sudan.

LR: And then, like you said, the rest of the funding so around $32 million for development projects, and this includes a focus on sexual and reproductive health for women.

AH: Correct.

LR: If I could pull on that for a second, I would love to hear you explain why this aid is important.

AH: It is because, you know, we know due to our analysis through the Feminist International Assistance Policy that when conflict erupts in any part of the world, women and young girls are disproportionately impacted in a negative way.

So one of the focus of our support for the people of Sudan is to support women who are at risk of or who have experienced gender-based violence, sexual violence and harassment. Those survivors need our support as well, so there’s programming through our focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights to respond to channel that support through organizations that are doing incredible work on the ground, both inside Sudan and outside Sudan.

And that’s one of the strengths of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, is that we take a gendered lens to everything that we do, including humanitarian funding and support.

LR: So this conflict, it’s passed the year-long mark in April, the 15 and a lot of women and children disproportionately affected as civilians in this conflict going on between Sudan’s military and paramilitary group.

The Centre for Disaster Philanthropy posted a call to action, they were kind of highlighting inequalities in how the international community has treated this crisis when compared to other conflicts like the war in Ukraine. You yourself have warned that the crisis in Sudan cannot become the forgotten crisis.

So why is the crisis in Sudan running the risk of being forgotten and how do we address that?

AH: So I think it’s really important to highlight the fact that this conflict is one of the biggest sources of displacement of civilians in the entire world now. So, we need to continue to pay attention to Sudan.

I’ve been trying to do my part on behalf of Canada to highlight that and I’ve been communicating that, not just through more support from the Government of Canada but also by engaging the Sudanese-Canadian community here. I had a number of meetings with them and I have listened to them on what more we can do and what more we should be doing.

Part of that is advocacy. So we have been engaging many countries to also step up their support cause we can’t do this alone. So as part of that process Canada was proud to participate in the Paris pledging conference on Sudan where we put forward our support for the Sudanese people at this time this year, and we announced the $132 million as a way to show support but also to encourage others to also step up.

So we encourage other countries to participate in that appeal for Sudan, Canada has done that. We’ll always continue to be open to look for ways to do more. And the second thing is also to understand this in the other context: the need for humanitarian support for people who are displaced is greater now than ever before.

Even if you combine Canada’s annual humanitarian funding and you combine that with all the humanitarian allocations made by our donor partner countries, who are donor countries, it’s still not enough when you contrast that with the needs out there. The needs have far surpassed our limited finances.

So we have to continue to A., advocate for these prolonged crises that are causing so much displacement. Second, we need to invest in the resiliency of host communities, who are doing the right thing by hosting refugees. We don’t want that to become a burden so we have to support them through programs that increase their ability to continue to host refugees.

And third, we have to also explore new ways to raise more capital and more funding for humanitarian causes. That means reaching out to other governments that haven’t traditionally been donor countries but are now financially in a position to do more, but they may not know how to.

So we’ll partner with them and we’re open to that. The second one is foundations- philanthropic foundations that have a lot of money and are open to, again, responding to these humanitarian crises, and the third one is the private sector as well.

So, how can we leverage our limited finances as donor countries including Canada to encourage others to also join us in these efforts because, as I said, our budgets are big and we thankfully received an increase this year to our humanitarian budget, and next year. A total of an additional $350 million, but that’s still not enough considering the needs out there.

LR: And it’s so important to be spreading that awareness and having those conversations cause I read that the UN says that Sudan specifically needs $2.7 billion to deal with the humanitarian needs right now. And I also think I read that the fighting, the conflict has escalated to more Eastern regions where a lot of the crops are being grown. So famine-like conditions like you said, escalating conflict and it appears to be getting worse.

I want to shift over a little bit to take the conversation to take the conversation towards the funding for the Democratic Republic of the Congo now, and Benin.

Millions have also displaced, I read that it (the DRC) was the second-largest displacement crisis, second to Sudan. It’s unfolding between the government and M-23 fighters and you’ve actually recently been to the DRC, and Benin, can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like on the ground there, what it’s like for civilians right now?

AH: Well, first of all, the conflict in the DRC has been going on much longer than the one in Sudan and it has resulted in horrific violence and really adverse impacts on civilians, particularly in the Eastern Congo.

Canada has been at the forefront in responding to the needs of civilians. We are one of the top donors to the UN Peacekeeping mission in Eastern Congo called Monusco. Monusco unfortunately, the government of DRC has now demanded that Monusco withdraw from Congo and they will do that in phases, so that’s ongoing, but the Deputy Commander of Monusco is a Canadian.

So we’ve been supporting Monusco because it’s been the main vehicle in Eastern Congo that has been protecting civilians. We’ve also been supporting survivors of gender-based and sexual-based violence in Eastern DRC, to get treatment and rehabilitation services and that has again been very welcomed by communities on the ground.

And then in the rest of DRC, Democratic Republic of Congo, we’ve been very active in putting together programs that enable, women for example, to access capital to start small-businesses. We’ve been funding projects that provide literacy and numeracy to young people, particularly women who are marginalized.

We’ve been involved in projects through organizations including Canadian organizations to provide skills and livelihoods for young people who are marginalized in urban and in rural areas.

So Canada’s doing a lot, and the government of DRC is also now looking to Canada to partner with other countries to contribute to DRC tapping into its natural resources, particularly its vast rivers to look at ways to produce hydroelectric power and that’s something that would contribute to the economic development of DRC, while also bringing into the stream clean energy solutions to its energy needs.

LR: Really taking a systemic approach. And I really want to underscore what you were saying about the gendered-lens that Canada is taking in regard to this humanitarian aid, with the DRC and Benin. A lot of the programs are being funded to aim to improve the conditions for women.

AH: Yeah, so for Benin there is no conflict, but we are a great partner for Benin. We are working with them to stabilize them against desertification.

There’s high-levels, particularly in the North, of child malnutrition. So we’re supporting them through the World Food Programme, and then there’s a national, nation-wide project for technical and vocational training of young people that the government of Benin asked us to fund and we’re funding that and I was able to visit one of those centres of technical and vocational training outside of the main city of Cotonou.

So Canada is literally providing support to up-skill Benin’s young population and what they’re learning is how to install solar panels, for example. They’re learning important skills for the economy of today and tomorrow, and providing Benin with bigger capacity for, for renewable energy.

We’re also supporting Benin through reinforcing their healthcare system. And because Canada is a big shareholder within the African Development Bank we’re also financing a major port in Benin which would help them increase their economic development.

LR: Ok, so I guess it’s fair to say this funding doesn’t come as like, a band-aid fix, it’s got long-term goals in mind.

AH: Oh no, absolutely. Of course.

We’re engaged in two approaches, one is of course, we have a humanitarian funding but we also have development funding. So that’s why I was referring to Benin, for example. The funding we provide to Benin is not humanitarian support, it’s development support.

So we have to do both. We have to respond to natural disasters like earthquakes, flooding, droughts and so-on. But we also have to respond to the impacts, negative impacts that come from climate change but also from war and displacement, from conflicts.

So there’s a lot there, but we also have a lot of funding that goes towards health, global health, education and climate. The climate crisis is real, it’s impacting communities both inside of Canada and outside of Canada. We’re doing everything that we can with our international development dollars to encourage partners to work with us to counter biodiversity loss, for example. To fight plastic pollution globally, not just in Canada.

And then, to work with partner countries to develop nature-based solutions to the negative impacts of climate change.

LR: And by addressing the climate crisis, it also goes its way to prevent future conflicts as well.

AH: Yes absolutely, because some of these conflicts are also exacerbated by droughts and other weather events.

LR: There’s actually a piece in The Economist that I read that was suggesting wars are getting longer and more complicated with a big part due to international interference, climate change and proxies. So with that in mind, what can we hope to see in terms of current conflicts, like what we see in the DRC and Sudan, and also ones in the future.

AH: What Canada’s approach is, support the civilians, put sanctions on the perpetrators who are perpetrating human rights violations in Sudan, so put sanctions on them. We’re supporting civilians inside and outside Sudan and we’re reinforcing host communities and of course, we join our partner countries who are looking to bring peace between the warring factions and the warring parties.

LR: And, I guess a really, really important thing to highlight here is that the crises that are going on in DRC and Sudan cannot become forgotten crises, and there’s still international pressure of course. What’s your sense for if lasting peace can be accomplished?

AH: I think we just need to continue to focus on civilians, support them directly, support survivors who have experienced a lot of impact from these conflicts, and then work to, as I said, sanction those who are causing this misery and then work with our like-minded partners to support peace processes and dialogue and talks to resolve these issues.

I was in the African Union headquarters a few weeks ago, and we held our first ever high-level dialogue between Canada and the African Union. Part of that was, how can we work, how can we in Canada support African Union-led priorities, like peace and security.

And so there are processes led by the AU to bring peace to these regions and to these conflicts. We support that process, how are we doing that? We’re doing that by increasing the AU’s capacity to do that work. So we believe in African solutions to African problems.

LR: Well Minister, thank you so much for your time today I really appreciate it

AH: Thank you, thank you for having me.

Minister Ahmed Hussen on Canada’s humanitarian aid for Sudan, DRC, and development projects

Jun 10, 2024 • Lauren Roulston

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Ana Sofia de la Parra • Jun 4, 2024

Mexico’s recently elected president, Claudia Sheinbaum (Claudia Sheinbaum/X).

 

Mexico has elected Claudia Sheinbaum as the first female president in the country’s history. The elections went underway on Sunday, Jun. 2, 2024, where around 58 per cent of the registered voting population turned out at the polls.

The country has been struck with division on social issues like high poverty rates, food and housing insecurity, inequality, and political agendas unrepresentative of the population’s needs and wishes. Mexico has also seen over 30,000 murders each year for five years straight. Despite this, the voters gathered to exercise their democratic rights, each hoping to make their country a better place with stronger guidance.

The election has faced attempts at interception with fake bomb threats by Morena fanatics and false police interventions, making just the tip of the iceberg this voting day. Mexican embassies around the world ran out of voting cards and there were Mexicans standing in lines for eight hours to vote.

The country finished off the day with an increase in violence. The election results weren’t as expected for many and everyone seems to have their own opinions about it. But it isn’t to say that the achievement Mexica has obtained isn’t to be celebrated.

A Feminist march in Querétaro, Mexico on Mar. 8, 2020 (WikiMedia Commons).

A country that is deep rotted in machismo, misogyny, sexism, homophobia and high rates of violence against women now has a woman as their leader, shattering unequal gender discourses and barriers that this country is socially and politically accustomed to.

It’s also not to say that Sheinbaum is doesn’t have what is necessary to lead, as she’s a scientist-turned-politician. But she is the protégé and successor of Lopez Obrador, the founder of Morena in 2011, who’s a deeply polarizing figure.

During Obrador’s six-year term there were numerous events that helped shape this image to the population, and Sheinbaum’s as well. According to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Centre, the COVID-19 pandemic reportedly left 333,199 dead in Mexico, as the country became one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

There were many deaths not represented in official numbers, a direct correlation to the mistreatment and implementations of sanitary restrictions. These were a direct order of Sheinbaum.

Many feminist groups have also highlighted a sense of polarization due to their mistreatment and lack of respect from Lopez Obrador’s sexist attitudes towards their protests and pleas for women’s rights.

What’s more, the Acapulco tragedy left thousands displaced without shelter, food and basic needs in a very poor area that benefits from tourism. The government promised to aid and push toward the rebuilding of this area, but to this day there’s still significant damages and people that still see the effects of this disaster in their day-to-day life.

Claudia Sheinbaum is making history. But it would be a mistake to label her as a hero. Sheinbaum has ignored the pleas of women, gassing feminist marches, erasing names on lists of missing persons and worked hand-in-hand with Lopez Obrador to create the polarization and division of Mexico today.

There’s a lot that can be added to the list of decisions the Morena government has made that don’t correlate with Mexican values. But today, a country that has everything to become a great nation, rich in culture, history, and full of warm individuals is grieving the dream that died at the elections on Sunday.

On Oct. 1, 2024, Mexico will inaugurate their very first female president. So yes, by all means, celebrate Mexico on achieving this milestone but don’t make Claudia Sheinbaum out to be a hero.

Mexico makes history with first female president, but the country needs a hero

Jun 4, 2024 • Ana Sofia de la Parra

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Parujee Akarasewi • Jun 3, 2024

(National Cancer Institute/UNSPLASH)

The Aids Committee of Ottawa (ACO) recently convened for an enlightening information session, uniting ACO staff, members of the HIV community, and healthcare professionals. At the end of May, this session aimed to illuminate the nuances of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and its ramifications, especially for individuals living with HIV.

Dr. Ann Burchell at the ACO (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

Dr. Ann Burchell and Dr. Patrick O’Brien, distinguished experts in the field, delivered insightful lectures. Dr. Burchell focused on HPV and its significance, while Dr. O’Brien discussed a prevention project plan and how individuals could access kits delivered to their doorsteps.

HPV, a pervasive virus with over 100 known types, each identified by a numerical identifier such as HPV-6, HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18, can affect various body parts, potentially leading to warts and more severe consequences like cervical, penile, and anal cancers.

It’s essential to note that HPV strains affecting the anal and genital areas differ from those impacting other body parts. While certain HPV types cause anogenital warts, they typically do not lead to cancer.

Throughout the session, participants explored the importance of preventive measures against HPV transmission. While condoms effectively reduce the risk of HPV transmission during sexual activity, they cannot eliminate it. Consistent and proper condom usage during vaginal, anal, and oral sex significantly diminishes the likelihood of acquiring or transmitting the virus.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that condoms only protect the areas they cover, leaving uncovered warts, such as those on the scrotum, susceptible to infection. Additionally, condom usage serves a critical role in preventing other sexually transmitted diseases and reducing the risk of unintended pregnancies.

The ACO session underscored additional preventive measures, including delaying sexual activity, limiting the number of sexual partners, and considering partners’ sexual history, especially if they have had multiple partners previously.

An essential highlight of the discussion was the significance of HPV vaccination for individuals living with HIV. Those with HIV face an elevated risk of developing HPV-associated cancers, such as cervical, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers. HPV-related lesions, like cervical dysplasia, may recur more frequently and progress rapidly in individuals with compromised immune systems, necessitating timely intervention and management.

Integrating HPV vaccination into routine healthcare for individuals with HIV is paramount. This approach aligns with holistic management and preventive medicine principles, aiming to optimize health outcomes and alleviate the burden of HPV-related diseases on the quality of life of those living with HIV.

Dr. Patrick O’Bryne speaks at the ACO (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

While Dr. Burchell covered anal Cancer and how to prevent it, Dr. Patrick O’Brien offered the solution to the cause. He instructed the group on how to get a test kit and explained the importance of using them, 85 per cent of which prove to be accurate.

By understanding the importance of rpeventive measures and vaccination, healthcare providers and community members can collaborate to mitigate HPV-associated risks and enhance the overall wellbeing of individuals living with HIV. This project will be launched across Ontario within 2024.

This informative session orchestrated by ACO is one of many they offer, with invaluable insights into HPV’s complexities and implications, particularly for individuals living with HIV.

A new hope for preventing anal cancer on the horizon

Jun 3, 2024 • Parujee Akarasewi

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Lauren Roulston • Jun 3, 2024

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Members of Parliament gather for the flag raising ceremony (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

 

The Pride flag was raised on Parliament Hill this morning, marking the beginning of Pride season. The coming weeks and months will see celebrations of identity and inclusion around the globe.

On the sunny morning of Jun. 3, 2024 in front of the Centre Block, the Prime Minister and government officials gathered with members of the community for this annual ceremony.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to the crowd about rising incidents of hate towards the queer community, particularly aimed at trans youth. In fact, a recent poll from IPSOS points to declining rates for supporting queer rights and visibility in Canada.

Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, announced government funding for Pride Organizations across Canada. Specifically, $1.5 million aimed to enhance security measures amid rising hate crimes for 2SLGBTQI+ individuals.

“These are not the kind of funding announcements that we want to make, ever. But we need to,” says the Minister. “Communities live in fear. They need this protection. Hatred is on the rise and we will support now and always.”

This is not the first time the Government has released security funding for Pride events in Canada. Last year, they released the same amount, which 50 Pride groups tapped into to boost their safety measures.

Minister Marci Ien announces security funding for Pride Organizations (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

Raising the Pride flag on Parliament Hill has become an annual gesture for the Liberals and their announcement comes at a symbolic moment for the queer community.

Sen. René Cormier addressed the crowd about the steps that must be taken for queer rights, noting that many countries still criminalize homosexuality.

Statista reports that 64 jurisdictions have laws that punish same-sex consensual activities, 12 of which employ the death penalty.

“Pride season is a reminder of the work that still needs to be done, as our communities continue to face inequality and violence, both here in Canada and globally,” says Sen. Cormier.

CHUO’s Parujee Akarasewi with Sen. René Cormier (Haoua Inoua/ACO).

(Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

Pride season begins with flag raising on Parliament Hill and security funding announcement

Jun 3, 2024 • Lauren Roulston

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