Remarks to Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
Study on the Situations in Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo
Remarks by Kevin Dunbar, Director, Global Programs and Impact, International Operations & Programs, CARE Canada


CARE Canada is honoured to contribute to the Committee’s deliberations on South Sudan, Somalia and DRC.

CARE is a rights-based, international non-governmental organization.

We support life-saving humanitarian assistance and protection, recovery and peacebuilding, as well as longer-term development work.

Last year, our work reached more than 62 million people, in 95 countries – including South Sudan, Somalia, and DRC.

My remarks today are focussed primarily on:
• The crisis in South Sudan
• Its impact on women and girls, and
• Lessons and recommendations we can draw for Canada’s role in the region.

They are based both on my personal experiences.

And on inputs from CARE’s brave South Sudanese staff – many of whom have worked with people affected by the conflict and drought for the last 25 years.

I lived in South Sudan during the independence period.

The atmosphere then was one of excitement and optimism.

Today, that optimism has vanished.

On my most recent visit, I met a mother at a clinic CARE runs in Unity State. We spoke about the services her children had received — high-energy food to help them recover from severe malnourishment.

I asked her about her hopes for the future.

“I hope that my family and I survive,” she said. “But I don’t expect peace, I expect things will get worse”.

So far, her prediction has held true.

The South Sudanese displacement crisis is now the largest in Africa, and the third-largest in the world.

Since 2013, over four (4) million people have been forced to flee.

This includes more than two (2) million now living as refugees in neighboring countries.

The majority of those displaced are women and children.

More South Sudanese are without food than ever before.

Parts of the country are reaching catastrophic levels of hunger rarely seen elsewhere in the world.

Over seven million people – almost two-thirds of the population – require urgent humanitarian assistance.

Climate change and drought are intensifying the food crisis, driving competition for scarce resources, and increasing the burden carried by vulnerable people.

This crisis has had a particularly devastating impact on women and girls.

Women and girls in South Sudan make impossible decisions every day.

Decisions like whether to stay home, in relative safety, but hungry.

Or risk walking to distant markets, or into the bush to gather firewood.

Up to 65 percent of women and girls in South Sudan have experienced physical or sexual violence. 65%

Assault, abduction, rape and gang rape occur with impunity – even in broad daylight.

Some women resort to sexual exploitation for protection, food, or for survival.

Early child forced marriage has increased, as parents face the impossible choice between accepting a dowry, or falling deeper into hunger and malnutrition.

Recognizing that global humanitarian funding is well below the needs, my recommendations are focussed on how Canada can most effectively use its resources to have the largest impact in these crises.

First, Canada needs to focus on political solutions that address root causes: The message I heard loud and clear from the South Sudanese people is that they need stability and peace.

Paths to these solutions are becoming more complicated. Peace is often linked to military or security operations.

But complex crises, such as those in South Sudan, DRC and Somalia, do not have a singular cause.

The Canadian government should apply its whole-of-government approach to help find a negotiated political solution to these conflicts.

Critically, this solution needs to be accompanied by measures that address root causes.

These include:
• Improving equality
• building community resilience to shocks, such as those caused by climate change, and
• ensuring inclusive and effective governance at all levels in each country.

Effectively responding to these crises will clearly require a comprehensive regional approach.

However, this approach can’t come at the expense of focussing on the critical needs and root causes inside each country

Second, a clear focus on women and girls’ specific needs and agency: Conflicts are a shock to the status quo, forcibly changing gender roles. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for change.

Existing gender inequalities are compounded when the humanitarian response glosses over women’s needs, or portrays them as nothing more than victims.

Ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services, for example, saves lives, just like clean water, shelter and food.

Too often crisis responses treat such services as an afterthought.

Canada should commit to the consistent and full provision of the Minimum Initial Services Package for Reproductive Health (MISP) at the onset of crises and in every humanitarian response.

This will ensure emergency support considers women’s reproductive needs right from the start. Women still get pregnant and still give birth in crisis.

With respect to women’s agency: Not nearly enough attention is given to women and girls’ contributions to social transformation – even in the midst of conflict.

Meaningful change happens when programs are underpinned by meaningful consultation and engagement of women and girls.

Third, do more through local responders: Insecurity and active-conflict often forces the suspension of activities.

We must support programs that complement or support national humanitarian actors, including local women’s rights organizations.

Local actors have better access and understanding of local context.

Provided the resources and supplementary expertise – they can do amazing work.

Yet less than 2% of funding currently goes directly to local organizations.

South Sudan is again this year the most dangerous country in the world to be an aid worker.

National staff are most often targeted by violence against humanitarian workers.

So efforts to support local organizations should be matched with the appropriate resources to operate safely in these challenging environments.

Additionally, Canada should continue to demand accountability for incidents where humanitarian workers are targeted, including by publicly condemning such incident whenever they occur.

Although a ceasefire has been reached, now is not the time to step back from our efforts in South Sudan.

To the contrary. We need to double our efforts.

Millions of people have been displaced, farmers have been unable to cultivate their crops, and livelihoods and homes have been destroyed.

A deep normalisation of violence and impunity will leave a lasting impact on every generation, every community, and every clan.

This type of impact cannot be undone overnight.

The number of people in need of assistance will remain shockingly high for years to come.

But people in South Sudan need hope for the future.

Not just that their family will survive another day.

They need hope that the promise the international community once gave to South Sudan can somehow be restored.

Thank you for taking interest in these forgotten crises, and I look forward to taking your questions.