East Africa relief fund raises $70M from Canadians

Canadians donated $70 million to charities working in East Africa on famine relief and the preliminary tally announced Wednesday will be matched by the federal government.
A severely malnourished child is held in a refugee camp in Mogadishu, Somalia last month. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press)

Canadians have donated at least $70 million to charities working on famine relief in East Africa, a total that will be matched by the federal government.

The preliminary tally, as of Oct. 4, was announced Wednesday by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda at a conference on food security in Montreal. The matching program means a minimum of $140 million will go towards helping the drought-ridden countries in the Horn of Africa. Somalia is one of the hardest-hit areas. Thousands of people have died and thousands more have fled their homes to seek help in refugee camps.

Communities are grappling with a lack of clean water, medical supplies and food and the safety of refugees is threatened by armed gangs as they make their way to camps. Once they get there, women are facing the risk of rape and children are being orphaned.

"Canadians have once again demonstrated their compassion and generosity by continuing to support the people of East Africa suffering from this catastrophic drought," Oda said in a statement. "The Canadian government is proud to partner with Canadians to help those affected by the drought. We continue to work with partners on the ground to ensure Canadian aid is helping those who need it the most, including women and children."

The donations that were made to registered eligible charities between July 6 and Sept. 16 will be matched by the federal government through its East Africa Drought Relief Fund. The final tally is expected to be known by the end of the month.

Oda's department, the Canadian International Development Agency, will allocate the funds to Canadian and international humanitarian organizations working in the region. Details will be announced in the coming weeks.

A Somali woman holds her malnourished child in August at a building in Mogadishu. Canadians have so far donated at least $70 million to famine relief in East Africa, the federal government reported Wednesday. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press)
CIDA has already dedicated $72.35 million this year to humanitarian operations in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, and the East Africa Drought Relief Fund will be on top of that contribution. The funds have been used by organizations including the World Food Program, UNICEF and other United Nations programs, CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, World Vision Canada and Plan Canada.

The organizations estimate that at least 13 million people are being affected by the drought and thousands have crowded into refugee camps in Kenya to seek help. Humanitarian groups are continuing their appeal for more funds so they can scale up their operations in the region.

Canada meets 2009 $1-billion pledge

During her speech in Montreal, Oda spoke about the commitments made by G8 countries in 2009 in L'Aquila, Italy, to bolster food security and sustainable agricultural development. Canada pledged $1.18 billion over three years and Oda announced that all of that money has been fully dispersed and much of it in Africa. Canada is the first G8 country to fulfill its pledge, she said.

She said Canada has been working with other donors, developing countries and humanitarian aid organizations to implement a Food Security Strategy that involves three main components — nutrition, agriculture, and research and development.

Oda said the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Africa – 23 countries have requested food aid since June – is expected to extend into next year and that everyone must work together "to strengthen our resiliency, be better prepared to adapt to changes and mitigate the consequences of food insecurity so that East Africa never happens again."

The United Nations has launched a campaign called "Never Again" so that the conditions that led to the famine can be avoided in the future. The warning signs were evident but ignored, according to the UN, and now tens of thousands of Somalis have starved to death, and an estimated three million people are at risk of dying. The drought and famine are also affecting millions of people from Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The UN says ignoring signs that were appearing two years ago has meant that more lives will be lost and more money will be spent because there was little support for timely and low-cost measures that could have kept the drought from developing into a massive famine.

The campaign calls for countries to develop long-term plans for food security and to tackle the causes of high and volatile food prices. It also commits donors to supporting national and community preparedness plans, scaling up emergency food reserves and providing sufficient aid and nutrition, especially to women and children.