OTTAWA – The woman appeared content for the moment, waiting under a tree for a little bit of salvation to fall — quite literally — from the sky.
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau recalled seeing the woman in a northern remote region of South Sudan during a four-day visit that wrapped up Monday.
The woman was one of the four million South Sudanese who have been internally displaced because of the four-year-old civil war raging in their country. Another two million have fled the country as refugees.
“It’s the middle of nowhere for us, she didn’t even have a roof over her head,” Bibeau recalled in a conference call.
“She was sleeping under a tree waiting for airdrops to feed her family.”
South Sudan has emerged as one of the newest drivers of the larger global crisis in displaced people, one that reached epic new proportions Monday when the United Nations released the latest record-breaking number quantifying the problem: 65.6 million people on the planet have fled their homes.
The South Sudanese homeless are almost totally dependent on humanitarian assistance because when they do find sanctuary, they can’t resettle safely or grow food to feed themselves, said Melanie Gallant, head of humanitarian campaigning for Oxfam Canada.
“We’re talking about people who are used to going through shocks and stresses, but they’ve just exhausted their coping mechanisms. The markets have collapsed in most places so even if you had money to buy food, it doesn’t mean you have any food to buy in the market.”
Uganda, South Sudan’s southern neighbour, has become Africa’s largest host refugee country with 1.2 million refugees, three quarters of them South Sudanese.
About 40,000 South Sudanese refugees have entered Uganda every month over the last year, 86 per cent of them women and children, said the World Refugee Council, a new organization run by Canada’s Centre of International Governance Innovation.
Michael Messenger, the president of World Vision Canada, has been in the northern Ugandan town of Arua watching the influx of South Sudanese. He said Monday about 100 unaccompanied children are crossing the border each day; their parents have either been killed or have otherwise fallen by the wayside during the exodus.
“It’s the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world; children are at the heart of it,” said Messenger.
“While Uganda has been very open, at a certain point, there’s a breaking point. There are parts of northern Uganda where the refugees actually outnumber the host communities.”
Canada announced an additional contribution of $86 million to assist famine and war ravaged South Sudan. That’s on top of the $36.9 million Canada gave to South Sudan in March.
Bibeau said the funds will improve access to basic health services, including family planning and reproductive health care for women and girls, as well as increasing access to food.
Bibeau, who also met government officials on the four-day trip, said the suffering can only be alleviated if the warring factions lay down their arms.
“We’re obviously concerned about the constant flow of South Sudanese refugees going to neighbouring countries. Uganda has been extremely generous,” she said.
“What is needed is a durable solution for peace in South Sudan, and we support the role of South Sudan’s neighbours in this process.”
The new funds announced Monday are an addition to the Famine Relief Fund recently announced in response to the widespread food crises in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen, in which the government will match the contributions of Canadians until June 30.
“Conflict is really the common theme between those countries,” said Gallant.
“Of course, as populations are being displaced, that’s a big factor for what we’re seeing in hunger crises and famine.”