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

Lauren Roulston • Jun 10, 2024

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

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

Ahmed Hussen: 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.