The federal government will focus its foreign aid on 20 countries — a smaller number — where it hopes to be more effective, the Canadian International Development Agency said Monday.

"While continuing to provide assistance to the people in greatest need, focusing our bilateral assistance will make our aid dollars go further and make a greater difference for those we help," International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said Monday in a release.

In 2005, the Liberal government of Paul Martin promised to target aid to 25 countries, but Oda said she has seen no evidence that the change ever occurred.

In the CIDA release, the agency said the vast majority of Canada's bilateral aid money will go, in addition to the Caribbean and the West Bank/Gaza regions, to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Mali, Mozambique, Pakistan, Peru, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Ukraine and Vietnam.

Bilateral aid programs account for 53 per cent or $1.5 billion of Canada's overall assistance money. The 20 nations will receive 80 per cent of that $1.5 billion.

The remaining half of Canadian aid goes to international organizations, such as like the United Nations World Food Program, and to countries dealing with urgent crises, such as natural disasters. Those contributions will continue, CIDA said.

Africa appeared to be the biggest loser in Monday's announcement, with eight of 14 nations no longer on the list, including Cameroon, Kenya and Rwanda. 

Oda said Africa receives most of Canada's donations to the UN food agency, and that Canadian aid to that continent has increased drastically in recent years.

"We're not abandoning any countries," Oda said, during a scrum in Ottawa. "What we're saying is we've selected 20 countries in which we will focus our programming."

To illustrate the point that countries left off the list — including Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Nicaragua —can still receive funding, the government announced an additional $1.5 million in its contribution to Sri Lanka.

The money will go to the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which are helping civilians displaced by ongoing ethnic violence there.

On Monday, the Opposition expressed surprise at the way the government made the announcement, which came from Oda during a media scrum in Ottawa before anyone had seen any details, which were distributed later in a release.

With files from the Canadian Press