Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), our briefing on the situation in Mali will start.
I want to extend greetings to our witnesses today for being here and for once again coming on such short notice.
We have Mr. Chris Rosene, who is director of development programs, international, for the Canadian Red Cross.
Welcome, sir. You'll be starting off for us.
We also have Stéphane Michaud, senior manager of emergency response for international operations.
Welcome to you, sir, as well.
From the International Committee of the Red Cross, we have Robert Young, who is a senior delegate.
Mr. Young, welcome to you.
Last but not least, as an individual we have Mr. Robert Fowler, who is a senior fellow of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs of the University of Ottawa and a long-time member of our foreign service.
Welcome. I'm glad to have you here as well, sir.
Mr. Rosene, why don't we start with you?
I believe you have anywhere from eight to ten minutes for a presentation. We'll have all the presentations, and then we'll go back and forth to the witnesses over the next hour, for the members to ask questions.
Thank you once again for being here.
We'll turn the floor over to you, Mr. Rosene. We look forward to your testimony.
Thanks very much for giving the Canadian Red Cross an opportunity to address the committee today.
My name is Chris Rosene, director for development programs in the international operations division of the Canadian Red Cross.
I'm here today with my colleague, Stéphane Michaud, who just returned from a four-month mission in Mali in September. Stéphane will be available to answer questions as well.
Before I turn it over to Robert Young of the International Committee of the Red Cross, I will focus on three key points: the importance of investing in long-term development activities; the unique capacity of the Mali Red Cross; and our plans moving forward.
Allow me to give committee members some background on our long-term development activities in Mali. We feel it is important to highlight these because the Canadian Red Cross has had a longstanding experience and history of working in Mali dating back to 1986, and a partnership with the Mali Red Cross. These programs are made possible thanks to the generosity of the Government of Canada and the Canadian public.
As the conflict unfolds in Mali, the Canadian Red Cross stands with our partner, the Mali Red Cross, during these difficult times, and we will be there to continue to support them when the conflict ends. It's important for us to keep in mind that this type of longer-term work will help us stay the course and will have an impact on saving lives, and hopefully reduce the humanitarian impact should further tensions arise.
Examples of the long-term work include development programs that improve the health of women and children, such as malaria prevention and vaccination campaigns. In 2007, the Canadian Red Cross, through support from the Canadian government and public donations, worked with the Mali Red Cross and the Mali Ministry of Health to deliver 1.8 million mosquito bed nets as part of an integrated child survival campaign that also provided measles and polio vaccinations and other medication to over 2.8 million children under five.
Core to our mandate of preparing for and responding to disasters, in 2009 we started a five-year program to build the capacity of the Mali Red Cross to respond to emergencies and to improve service delivery and community-based programs in four regions of Mali.
Since 2011, our work in Mali has continued to focus on maternal and child health programs through to 2014. These health programs will ensure that life-saving interventions are delivered to address critical childhood illness and will reach a further 875,000 people, including more than 150,000 children under five. These efforts continue to progress despite the conflict.
We are also responding to the current food security crisis that is taking place in parallel with the conflict in Mali and the other nations of the Sahel region. The Canadian Red Cross is supporting Canadian experts in-country to reinforce the Mali Red Cross management of the food crisis.
I would like to emphasize the important role of the Mali Red Cross during this current crisis. The Mali Red Cross was founded in 1965 by an act of its government as an auxiliary to the public authorities. It has been fulfilling this mandate particularly in the areas of disaster response and in training of nurses and first aid. It currently has a network of 7,500 volunteers, which allows it to have a vast reach across the country, including in the north, in transition areas like Mopti and Timbuktu. Responding to conflict and other parallel issues is not unlike the situation faced by other national societies in this same region, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivoire, who have all played crucial roles in times of crisis.
In addition, the Mali Red Cross will have a vital role to play post-conflict. It will be very important not to lose sight of the remaining needs once the conflict ends, be it in relation to food security or recovery activities to rebuild the country. The Canadian Red Cross stands ready to continue this capacity-building work with the Mali Red Cross.
To conclude, Mr. Chair, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement is able to have a wide range of coordinated activities in Mali and in the region. Canadian support has allowed for a building of local capacity, thus strengthening their ability to respond to multiple issues: conflict, food crises, and health needs.
Unfortunately, we anticipate that humanitarian needs will continue in the coming months. At the Canadian Red Cross it is our job to plan for the worst and be prepared for the unexpected. We have made contingency plans accordingly, including plans to support the Mali Red Cross in its current and post-conflict activities.
I'd now like to turn it over to Robert Young of the International Committee of the Canadian Red Cross before we take questions.
Mr. Chair, I want to start by thanking the committee for inviting the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, to appear.
I'm Robert Young, the ICRC's representative in Ottawa, part of our regional delegation for Canada and the U.S.
My remarks today will focus on the serious humanitarian situation in Mali in relation to the armed conflict and the ICRC's operational response as part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Within this movement, as you know, the ICRC is most active in situations of armed conflict and is closely associated with international human law, IHL, with our unique role recognized in the Geneva Conventions.
Let me first express the ICRC's sincere thanks to the Government of Canada for ongoing financial support for our work in Mali in particular, including the $2 million announced recently in Addis Ababa. This kind of support allows the ICRC to carry out our mandate, entrusted to us by states as a neutral, impartial, and independent humanitarian actor in armed conflict and other situations of violence.
As you know, the structure of the conflict in Mali has changed significantly in recent weeks with the involvement of other countries. The Malian and allied armies to a great extent control the cities of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal, where the ICRC continues to be present and operating. From the humanitarian and security standpoints, the situation is critical. The conflict is not over.
In all conflicts around the world where ICRC operates, we seek to establish dialogue with all of the parties involved. This includes confidential dialogue to promote respect for humanitarian law and to discuss alleged violations of IHL. This is the case in Mali, where the ICRC has been present since 1982, and where we've increased our operations over the last 30 months. Since the conflict began in January 2012, we've been explaining our strictly humanitarian mandate to government forces and armed groups alike throughout Mali. This dialogue has been essential to the acceptance of the ICRC by all of the various parties, helping to ensure our continued access through all regions of Mali. Today we have 100 staff across Mali, based in offices in Bamako, Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal, and Mopti.
Throughout the conflict, and to date, the ICRC has been granted access to all of these key centres, as well as to the remote rural areas around them, where few organizations have access. We have managed to maintain staff presence in the north, with some minor interruptions. This has ensured our access to the most vulnerable people in the Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and Mopti regions, providing them with food and other essential aid, in cooperation with the Mali Red Cross, with whom we work closely.
My colleague from the Canadian Red Cross has explained the important role of the Mali Red Cross, and I won't elaborate here.
Our own operations in Mali are backed by our regional delegation in Niamey, Niger, where we also work closely with the Niger Red Cross, which is also responding to the crisis in Mali.
Beyond the food assistance to more than 700,000 people we have provided to date, I'd like to give you a few snapshots of some of our ongoing action in Mali. Last year, we visited hundreds of persons detained in relation to the armed conflict in Mali. This included more than 150 people detained by the Malian security forces, as well as more than 80 government soldiers in the hands of various armed groups in the north. We carried out 41 prison visits to 20 detention places, where we met over 3,500 detainees. We facilitated humanitarian contacts between hundreds of family members separated by the conflict through Red Cross messages and through phone calls.
To promote humanitarian law, last year we briefed more than 600 members of armed forces and armed groups in Mali. We continue these activities with the international military forces who have arrived and are continuing to arrive for deployment in Mali. Last week, for example, we briefed Malian forces in Mopti, with over 200 soldiers and officers involved in military operations.
In the three main towns in the north, the ICRC is providing diesel to keep water pumping stations working and fresh water running. In Gao alone, thousands of kilograms of chlorine were supplied to the water treatment plant. Also in Gao, the ICRC is providing a seven-person medical and surgical team and medical supplies. We also support nine health centres in smaller centres in the north.
To conclude, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, including the ICRC, expects there will be pressing humanitarian needs in Mali in coming months. The ICRC, together with the Mali Red Cross, will respond to the assistance and protection needs of the population, especially in the north, where vulnerability is high. The ICRC will continue to seek access to all persons detained in the conflict on all sides of the conflict.
The ICRC and the Mali Red Cross will continue to closely coordinate our efforts within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and also with the UN and international community, to best respond to the needs of the people of Mali in their time of crisis.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. What a pleasure it is to be here among you this morning.
I had sort of a dog-and-pony show to present to you, with maps, photographs, personalities, and video clips. When the House of Commons reaches the technical level of most Canadian high schools, then such things ought to be possible.
What I'm going to do instead is talk to you—now that I've figured out what I'm going to say—and at a couple of points I'd like to play the sound of the two video clips that I was going to show you. I understand that Miriam will make available to members the links to these clips so that you can see them live.
In order to explain why Canada ought to be significantly more engaged in the situation in Mali, and across the Sahel more generally—significantly more than we have been—I'm going to have to tell you a little about why I think that and what kind of a threat I think is happening in that region presents to Canada and to Europe, to our allies, and above all to our longstanding African friends.
Roughly half a billion Africans live in that upper half of Africa, and they are, I believe, in significant peril from the Islamist threat.
When I speak of these guys...I would show you pictures, but they.... I'm rather surprised to find pictures on the Internet of my captors, principally the person you're going to hear from, “Omar One”, the guy who grabbed Louis and me by the road outside of Niamey on December 14, 2008. He's now a big deal in AQIM and Ansar Dine, and you see him very often on the Internet.
He explains very clearly what are his objectives. They are the most focused group of individuals I've ever seen. Of course, I only met 31 of them. I spent nearly five months with 31 of them, but most of my time was spent talking to a very few of them.
They're not like any soldiers I've ever seen before. They're not like any western young men I've seen before. They are dressed in rags. They take great care of their rather ancient sixties-style Soviet weaponry. There's great talk about all the money they have earned from ransoms and from illegal activities, but I saw no sign of material interest or consumption. They're not wearing cool sunglasses or coveting MP3 players.
They are anxious to get to paradise as expeditiously as possible. Indeed, at one point deep into our saga we were stuck in the sand, and my captor of the moment stripped his AK off his shoulder, thrust it in my face, and said “Kill me now. I’m ready for paradise.” They are a very focused people.
They believe, absolutely, that jihad is the sixth pillar of Islam, and that if they die fighting God's fight, they will get to paradise; they will be beside those rivers of milk and honey. That is where they want to be. They believe the Prophet told them that 99 out of 100 would not pass, but if they die in God's struggle, they will. And they don't care how long it takes. It is, for them, God's time. He will decide when victory will be theirs. But because it's His fight, it will be theirs. Whether it takes 20 years or 20,000 years, it doesn't matter. They will be beside those rivers of milk and honey.
The head of the unit of al-Qaeda that took us in the Islamic Maghreb, I found out after I got out, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar. He is, of course, the guy who perpetrated the horror at the In Amenas liquefied natural gas facility in Algeria two weeks ago, killing 37 foreign workers there. He is an extremely focused person. We will hear more from him over the coming weeks and months.
He has one eye. Louis and I gave names to them all. Belmokhtar became Jack, as in one-eyed jacks. Jack made it very clear that he was part of a much larger operation. He had been fighting for 20 years in Salafist outfits going back to 1992. They attacked targets in Algeria every week, sometimes many times a week. Eighteen months ago, they did 31 attacks in a period of six weeks. It is a constant thing. Two hundred thousand people have been killed in Algeria over that time.
There's big debate about whether they're bandits or hoods or Robin Hood. Belmokhtar is called the Marlboro Man. I am certain he indulges in all kinds of smuggling. But are they bandits flying a flag of Islamic convenience or rather are they latter-day Robin Hoods doing a little banditry to nourish the cause? There is no doubt in my mind it's the second. Are they linked up with other Salafist organizations, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia? Of course, they are linked up. One of my captors was a kid from Kano in northern Nigeria, and he was what we would call an exchange officer. Yes, they are linked up.
The Secretary-General of the UN was talking about Boko Haram fighters flowing into northern Mali last August. They have close connections with al-Shabab.
If I can work this, I'll see if I can have Omar tell you what their objectives are.
[Transcription of video presentation ]
I am going to speak.
This message is for France, the United States and all NATO countries to tell them that the mujahedeen are ready to strike at any time. We are not here to control cities. We are here to wage jihad, to spread the word of the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah honour him and may peace be upon him. We came here without consulting them and we won't consult them when we leave. We came in the name of there is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God. We are ready to defend religion until our last breath. We are ready to fight France, the United States, all NATO countries.
We believe that all their might is but a spider web. How can they threaten us with a spider web? You threaten us with the other wish, martyrdom. We have to live as good Muslims, as good followers of the faith, or die as martyrs.
Today, they sent a surveillance and reconnaissance plan. It was flying at a low altitude, and we struck back. When we did, the plane flew off at a very high altitude. It circled the skies 14 times and came back. We are ready. We know they are spy planes, planes that are taking pictures.
But tell them we are on the ground. As soon as they come, we'll come out and wait for them on the ground. We aren't here for a comfortable life or air conditioning. We came to defend religion, Islam, and we will fight to our last breath. And even if they don't come here, as soon as we conquer France, we'll go to the United States, we'll go to London, we'll go to France. We will conquer the entire world. The flag of there is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God will be flown from dawn to dusk.
Peace be upon you and the mercy of God.
Mr. Robert Fowler: That's the guy who captured us and those are his objectives.
They told us repeatedly that they wish to turn the region from Nouakchott in Mauritania to Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean in Somalia into one vast, chaotic, seething chaos. They believe that in that chaos their jihad will thrive. As you heard him say, “First that, then us”, and they make that very clear.
In my belief, no Canadian in this zone is safe. No westerner in this zone is safe. They are extremely serious players. They have been given a taste of victory in Mali. They will prosecute it. The French have been very successful with their incredibly timely action. They have pushed them now into a sort of classic insurgency guerrilla warfare. We've seen them hitting in Gao and Kidal in the last couple of days, and they will continue to do that. Remember that time is on their side, and they will try to draw it all out and draw us into another Afghanistan. I don't think it is another Afghanistan as long as we make very certain that it isn't another Afghanistan and we don't make the same mistakes we made in Afghanistan.
Mr. Chairman, I believe that Canada has great friends in that region who we have nurtured over decades. We ought to be protecting and helping those friends and helping our French allies diminish this menace to the point that the Africans, the Malian army, and the African force can deal with them.
You mentioned the regional context, and certainly that chilling audio you shared with us shows very clearly what their vision is. This is not just about Mali, as you have underlined; it's really about the region. When we're talking about how we deal with a situation as complex as this, do you believe we need to have a strong presence in the region?
Just to give people an understanding of what Canada's presence is right now, we have closed missions and embassies in Africa recently. Right now our coverage in Africa is less than 40% of the region. To give people a comparison, Brazil has more than 50% coverage in Africa, diplomatically speaking. The French have 90%.
When we talk about the long term, you're giving us a vision: this isn't going to be something we solve overnight. I believe that's what you're underscoring here. If we're going to help to stabilize and help the people in the region, if we're going to help our allies and the African people and build long-term peace and stability there, how will this reduction that we've seen in the diplomatic footprint and resources impact on our efforts to do that work?
In other words, in your opinion, should we reverse this trend of investment in diplomacy and resources on the ground in the region?
Mr. Dewar, I think you're asking a shoe salesman if he'd like to have more shoe stores.
Yes. I think the Brazilians had 11 embassies among the 54 countries of Africa 15 years ago, and today they have 31. What do they know that we don't know? I don't know. If you took that through many other countries, you'd find the same trend.
We're going in a counter-trend direction. I don't know why we are. I know life is tough and budgets are tight and we can do things smarter, but yes, I believe Canada has interests to protect and project. We haven't been doing much of that lately.
I hear constant stories about reduction in facilities, embassies, budgets, people. The last house I lived in as a diplomat was a lovely house in Rome that we bought for a song—not with our money. The Italians had to pay us reparations because we won and they didn't, and therefore we used that money to buy a residence. That residence was paid for with the blood of 6,000 Canadian soldiers. I'm told we're now selling that house. Does that make sense? Hell, no.
So, yes, I do think the budgets of the Department of Foreign Affairs ought to be restored. We have things to say in the world and we ought to be back saying them.
Thank you to you all.
Ambassador Fowler, you seem to be very popular this morning. I'm going to continue with that popularity trend. It's a pity you're not more popular with the minister. I'm kind of disappointed, frankly, to learn that the minister hasn't called you into his office for a direct chat. You are, after all, probably Canada's foremost expert in this area, and your comments—whether one disagrees or agrees with them—are fairly pointed, and certainly intellectually and experientially based.
I want you to disaggregate, if you will, your phrase “significantly more engaged”. I want you to disaggregate it in three phases: diplomatically, militarily, and developmentally. You clearly state that militarily there will not be any negotiation with these people. We don't even understand their mindset.
The government heretofore has kind of expressed a certain reluctance to get involved in yet another African conflict. It therefore falls to you and your view to articulate not only why we should but how we should engage militarily. I think diplomatically that's a given, and aid-wise that's a given, but militarily, I think that's where the core resistance or reluctance is on the part of the government.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Gentlemen, thank you for being here.
I do want to give the Red Cross a little bit of time here to talk about some more of their programs.
And I'd like to dispel some of the myth that seems to be here about Canada leaving the Sahel region of Africa. Certainly Mali has been one of our countries of focus, and Mr. Fowler, you indicated that Canada has been the largest contributor: $110 million a year going into that country. We've been working on governance issues. We've been working on maternal, newborn, and child health. We've been on education.
Contrary to what seems to be out here about Canada not investing in helping with military engagement, we have been on the ground working with ECOWAS and training in military and police capacities in Niger, in all of that region, to ensure that they are building capacity.
I've had the opportunity to visit the Kofi Annan centre in Ghana, and certainly Canada has been intimately engaged in that country and in that process. ECOWAS is invested in ensuring that all of the countries of the Sahel region are getting the training. When the Sahel crisis started to emerge, Canada was the first one on the ground with contributions for humanitarian endeavours to ensure that food security was going to be there for the people of the Sahel region. We've contributed some $56 million, over and above the $110 million that is going into Mali—$56 million. We still have Senegal and we still have Ghana as countries of focus, so certainly we are engaged in the Sahel region.
I know you've talked about this amount of money that we contributed at the funders' conference. We've contributed $13 million, and even if that is only 2% of what is being contributed, we heard last week that the EU is only contributing $20 million. So the contribution that Canada has given per capita is punching way above our weight. We actually had the ambassador here last week from Mali, who said, and I quote...she's thanking Canada for the generous contribution that was announced at the funders' conference last week. So I just think that we need to dispel the myth that Canada is not engaged.
To the Red Cross, to both organizations, both Canada and the international, you've both indicated that you have a very long-term engagement with Mali. We talked first from Canada. You said that you've been engaged in Mali since 1986. That's 25 years' worth of programming.
I wonder if you could both expand on the programs you have there and how you are helping the Malian Red Cross build its own capacity so that they can take over at the right time.
Yes, as you pointed you, we have been involved for a number of years. We have not been physically present all those years. We've been participating with the Mali Red Cross, always trying to give them the lead in their programs and to support them in the strategies and the priorities they develop—but among their priorities are disaster response and emergency response.
In this latest crisis they have been working very closely with the ICRC, as pointed out by my colleague, Rob Young. They would not have been able to do that if they weren't there and already on the ground, with a presence in a wide area of the country and in the different regions. That presence is very important. We are working with them in capacity-building to try to strengthen not only their ability to respond to emergencies, but also their ability to deliver services to their constituency.
One of those areas is health. A number of Red Cross societies are strong in the health area, as we are in Canada, in the Canadian Red Cross, and the maternal and child health program that we are conducting with the Mali Red Cross, with support from Canada, is at least a beginning. I would say that we need to do much more, because the scope, the range, and the period of that work are still a bit limited, but it is taking advantage of the fact that Red Cross volunteers have a basic training in first aid, and on top of that training in first aid they can be helped to deal with issues affecting child health at the community level.
We know that an investment in health generally is a good investment, for two reasons. We know it pays off economically—the studies show us that—and we also know that it builds resilience. In the communities that have to respond to some other kind of threat or crisis, if they have stronger health in their communities, especially for women and children, they are able to respond in a more resilient fashion, so we're building resilience.
The refugee situation in Mali is not due solely to the recent conflict. Refugees have been on the move since the farming crisis in 2011. So far, an estimated 371,000 refugees have been displaced, the food crisis being as much to blame as the conflict. Most of those people, some 227,000, have been displaced internally, within Mali.
Numerous agencies are assisting these displaced people, including the Red Cross's organizations in every country affected, especially Mauritania and Niger, as well as Mali. Following France's involvement in the conflict, the number of displaced people grew by 35,000. The needs of these people are tremendous. The Malian Red Cross is reviewing its operations, as well as its capacity, not only to help the displaced in the short term, but also to support the country's long-term recovery post-conflict.
I would say the best thing Canada can do is to keep supporting the Malian Red Cross and those agencies providing direct assistance to the refugees, be it the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or the World Food Programme. Some needs will indeed persist once the conflict has ended.
The food crisis that preceded the military coup and the influx of extremists in northern Mali is still not over. When they return home, these people will return to a new reality—at least we hope so—but still need support.
I'm going to direct this question to Mr. Fowler.
It's nice to see you here today. I've listened to you and read some of your work over the years. I appreciate your frankness. It's refreshing, particularly in the Canadian context.
I agree with your assessment on the ground that it's dangerous, it's evolving, and it could likely get worse before it gets better. We've used language today about diminishing al-Qaeda, degrading, but really what you're talking about is killing the enemy. I appreciate and I agree with your view. This is not a question of battalions and lines on a map, but more of an asymmetrical warfare, potentially.
I want to get a sense of what that means so that we're not just talking at an abstract level to effectively wage the campaign you're suggesting and, frankly, that I think would be needed. We see UPI referring to the northern part of Africa, or parts of it, or of Africa's Tora Bora, for example, to give a sense of what we're looking at here. Correct me if I missed a point here, but basically what you're talking about is a campaign that would be waged from the air, one that would involve special forces to ID targets, and then regular soldiers would be needed to back up and follow through on that. As well, there are logistics and the transportation to and from the theatre. That's a sizeable contribution, and I'm not sure it's one that Canada could even make on its own.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the committee. Thank you for the invitation.
Our country has a long-standing history of cooperating closely with Mali, bilaterally, regionally, and then as part of la Francophonie on issues of development, good governance, and security. In fact, we have been one of its principal development partners, helping the country to stabilize its democracy and make concrete health and educational gains.
The crisis that Mali currently faces is multi-dimensional. The country has been in a particularly fragile state since fighting intensified in the north in early 2012, followed by the coup d'etat last March. The humanitarian situation is also of grave concern, as Malians are still dealing with the consequences of the food and nutrition crisis that affected the Sahel region in 2012 and the impact of the conflict in the north.
Since the suspension of direct support to the Malian government following the coup d'état, the Canadian International Development Agency has continued to provide development and humanitarian assistance through multilateral and non-governmental organizations.
On the humanitarian front, with Canada's support, the United Nations World Food Programme has provided emergency food and nutrition assistance to an estimated 1.3 million people in Mali over the last 12 months. With our help, UNICEF has provided life-saving nutrition programming for the treatment of more than 39,000 Malian children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Our support to CARE Canada is helping the organization implement cash transfer programming that is enabling 3,000 vulnerable households to meet their basic needs with dignity. CIDA has also provided regional funding in response to calls for assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross movement.
The High Commissioner for Refugees has provided 142,000 Malian refugees with essential items such as blankets, kitchen sets, shelter, and sanitary supplies, while the Red Cross movement has distributed essential household items and hygiene kits as well as food to an estimated 600,000 people affected by the conflict.
Mali also benefited from the direct generosity of our citizens, who contributed $6.9 million to registered Canadian charities through the Sahel crisis matching fund last August and September. The fund was established in response to the food and nutrition crisis that has affected Africa's wider Sahel region.
I should also add that at last month's donor pledging conference in Ethiopia, I announced, on behalf of the Canadian government, that Canada is providing an additional $13 million for a number of initiatives aimed at addressing Mali's pressing humanitarian needs. These include delivering shelter, primary health care, and water and sanitation to some 150,000 Malian refugees in Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso, and to more than 235,000 internally displaced people in Mali.
In regard to addressing longer-term needs, while CIDA has no ongoing development projects in any of Mali's unstable regions and is not currently working directly with the Mali government, Canada is still providing development assistance in the country's southern areas to ensure that populations there continue to receive critical health and educational services. This type of support is critical to avoiding social unrest in the south and to stabilizing the part of the country where the vast majority of the people live and where the interim government sits.
A stable south means more efforts can be concentrated on the security situation in the north. This is also important to ensuring continuity and progress in the good work that CIDA has done in Mali over the years. Up until the coup d'état, the agency's bilateral program had in fact delivered significant results. Canada's contributions to save the lives of mothers and children in Mali, for example, have helped increase the rate of assisted childbirths by 13% since 2003, and 92% of children under the age of one received essential immunization in 2010.
As part of a long-term strategy to reduce hunger and poverty, CIDA supports irrigation and agricultural development projects and promotes the use of new methods and techniques to increase food security and economic growth. This helps sustain farmers and increase their production both for their own consumption and for selling in local markets.
Also in 2010, primary school students received 1.2 million new textbooks for their learning. These are critical years in a child's academic and social development, years that cannot easily be made up. Ready access to quality textbooks is helping to keep children in school and ensure that they are in fact learning. CIDA also helped to establish the textbook repair industry in Mali. Working through the Malian government's Ministry of Education, nearly 120,000 textbooks lasted much longer, postponing the need to buy new books and saving the government money.
Another of the cornerstones of Canada's development program in Mali is promoting good governance. CIDA's support to the justice system helped the ministry of justice develop and implement automated procedures aimed at speeding up the court system.
For over a decade, CIDA has been active in democracy building in Mali where our interventions are based on the same principles that guide our efforts to advance democracy in other parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world, namely human rights, the rule of law, accountable public institutions, and freedom, including the right to freely participate in a fair and democratic electoral process.
It would be a shame if Mali's current fragility caused a backslide of any kind with respect to these significant gains. Canada's support for Mali builds on our strong and long-standing history and friendship with all the different regions in Africa, where we have a profound interest in advancing prosperity, stability, and democracy.
We are also actively engaged with our development partners from francophone Africa. Last October I accompanied our Prime Minister to the 14th Francophonie Summit in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Canada announced support that will help prevent sexual violence against women and girls in the DRC and provide victims with much needed services and support.
I also travelled to the Sahel last fall to witness for myself the widespread suffering caused by the food and nutritional crises, and to Ethiopia last month to discuss the conflict in Mali and the financial, logistical, and capacity-building needs of both the Malian forces and the African-led international support mission in Mali.
Considering Canada's long-standing support and involvement in Africa, it really is no surprise that we would seek to support Mali during this difficult time. While our suspension of direct assistance to the Government of Mali remains in effect, the agency continues to work with partners to provide much-needed development assistance to address the needs of vulnerable Malians—assistance that will help to secure a safe, bright future for Malian children, assistance that addresses the needs for nutritional food, assistance that supports maternal, newborn, and child health, and assistance that supports the immediate needs of the population affected by the current conflict.
Mr. Chairman and members, development work is never easy, but it is particularly difficult in places that lack constitutional order, peace, and stability. The crisis in Mali can only be resolved through a collaborative approach between the various Malian, African, and international stakeholders. Canada wants to see a democratically elected government in place in Mali and stability restored.
Let me reiterate that Canada remains committed to a concentrated international approach to the crisis in the Sahel, to the re-establishment of security and democracy for the people in Mali, and to overcome the humanitarian crises that plague the region.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and colleagues. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you today.
I'd like to say at the outset that I have been following your recent meetings on the situation in Mali and am pleased with the level of interest that members of this committee, and indeed members of Parliament from all parties, have shown in this complex and important file.
Today's meeting represents just one aspect of our government's commitment to educate parliamentarians on Canada's response to the conflict in Mali. I hope we will be able to reach a consensus on this important issue. As members know, the Prime Minister and I made this commitment to the leaders and critics of the opposition parties. This issue transcends politics, as it should.
For the benefit of those joining us today, here is some context.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Mali covers a swath of west Africa that is roughly the size of the province of Quebec. The northern part of Mali, an area the size of Alberta, is the poorest area of the country. It is sparsely populated, with towns and villages dotting the desert terrain. Historically, it has not been under the central Malian government's close control, with one ethnic group in particular launching semi-regular rebellions against governments of the day.
In recent years, the situation in northern Mali has been compounded by the increasing presence of terrorists and radical Islamic extremist groups, as well as by the influx over time of arms illegally trafficked throughout the region.
Radical extremists ramped up the attacks against the Malian defence forces early in 2012. Then in late March a handful of junior officers caused a political crisis, when they successfully led a coup d'état just weeks before a planned election in which the incumbent president was not running.
I'm pleased to say that Canada reacted quickly and strongly to condemn the coup and to demand the return of constitutional rule. To underscore Canada's insistence that Mali again find its way back to democratic and representative governance, I, along with my colleague Julian, suspended direct bilateral aid transfers so as not in any way to support the illegitimate governance. We instead worked through NGOs to deliver humanitarian assistance, as my colleague has explained.
By June 2012 and over the months that followed, groups of Tuareg nationalists, Islamic extremists, and criminals occupied the entire north, oppressing local populations. Civilian men, women, and children saw their basic rights abused. Thousands were driven from their homes. Millions are now at risk of malnutrition.
I am providing you with this context to simply say that Canada was monitoring the situation and responding to it long before most people's attention turned to Mali in recent weeks, long before headlines began appearing almost daily.
Canada has been active in Mali for a long time. We have responded strongly to the many challenges that have arisen over the past year, and we will continue to take appropriate measures in cooperation with like-minded members of the international community.
On December 20 of last year, just days before Christmas, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2085, which wisely places emphasis on both the political track and the security track for resolving the situation in Mali, and which authorizes a one-year deployment of an African-led international support mission in Mali.
In January, at the request of the interim Malian government, France quickly launched a military operation to support the military in its efforts to drive back a sudden terrorist advance to the south that threatened the capital. Our government endorsed that initiative by providing a large-capacity C-17 aircraft. It has since transported almost one million pounds of equipment. This support and that of other countries has helped France and the French forces and other African forces push the extremist elements out of most of Mali's northern cities. The French have said that, conditions permitting, their forces would be withdrawn by the end of March.
We're looking at ways to help address the humanitarian crisis, and in Ottawa and in Bamako we are supporting the road map to democratic elections sometime later this year.
Colleagues, we are operating on three tracks to address the serious challenges that exist in the country, and we are looking at ways to effectively address the challenges of the broader region. We have been there, and will be there, for the people of Mali and, just as important, for its neighbours.
With that, I look forward to your questions and comments.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Ministers, thank you for being here today.
This has been a very important discussion for us over the last couple of weeks. I sincerely hope that Canadians who are watching our committee proceedings here are getting a sense of Canada's involvement, our concern for what's going on in Mali. As I said in committee last week, I have a vested interest. I have supported a little girl through World Vision for the last 10 years, and for Tolatta's sake, I want to see Mali get back to a situation where democracy thrives.
To both of you, if you would...as I said in our earlier hour, we have members on the other side who are trying to portray this myth that Canada has left Africa, that Canada has left the Sahel region. I wonder if each of you could speak to Canada's engagement there, in Africa in general if you want, but specifically in the Sahel region, and the things that we have done to help build governance, to help train security forces, specifically the Kofi Annan centre in Ghana. We're working with ECOWAS.
Could you speak to those issues?
Minister Baird, this discussion about AFISMA.... I was in Malawi two weeks ago and had the opportunity to speak with the general of the Malawian army, who talked about AFISMA. The solution in Mali needs to be an African-led solution. I wonder if you could speak to that as well.
Mr. Chair, I'll take the first item, if I may.
It's really important to understand.... This crisis is very troubling and certainly extremely disappointing, especially to Canada, because of our long-standing involvement in Mali, which goes back to the 1960s, actually. It became a country of focus in 2009.
I can enumerate for you the amount of Canadian taxpayer dollars that have been dedicated to Mali, which averages out at about $100 million a year. Aside from all of that, going to the question about whether or not we have, as a Canadian government, forgotten about or diminished our concern or our involvement in Africa, nothing could be further from the truth.
Having visited there, as I know some of you have as well, there's a high degree of Canadian NGO involvement in that part of Africa. Last year, with the drought situation, we not only stood up the matching fund situation, which I believe averted a huge disaster, but we also visited the contiguous countries, receiving Malian displaced persons and so forth, and speaking with them as well. So we have a great appreciation.
I believe Minister Baird has been there five times. The was there last fall. I certainly visited. There has been, sincerely, a true, honest, and humanitarian commitment to Mali before, now, and it certainly will continue in the future.
We have been very active in recent years, particularly in the Sahel region, and directly in Mali with respect to counterterrorism and capacity-building. We've spent millions on countries in the Sahel to strengthen their capacity in a number of areas: law enforcement, the military, intelligence capacity, legal regimes, and criminal justice, specifically targeting terrorism. Mali has been the most important beneficiary of our counterterrorism capacity-building program in that region since 2010.
Since 2010 we've provided more than $7 million to fund and enhance the operational capacity of the country's security forces, as well as to strengthen its legal regime specifically against terrorism. This is in addition to the significant humanitarian resources that have gone in.
I have been particularly engaged on this file. I have met with representatives from Mali. Two days ago I spent some time with the ambassador from Mauritania. Obviously we have gotten together with my counterparts in Nigeria. The chairman of the African Union and the President of Benin visited with us and gave us specific briefings on this.
Having said that, I am very cautious about sending in potentially thousands of Canadian troops to Malian soil, as has been called for by others, to what will and is already amounting to a counter-insurgency. We're not going to get into another Afghanistan in this region at the drop of a hat.
We do have an important responsibility as a country to be actively involved supporting the track back to democracy. We do have an obligation to support the fight against terrorism. That's why we're supporting a key ally, France, in this regard. We're providing substantial humanitarian support, and we are prepared to do more, as this problem will not be fixed immediately.
We have some important requests before the government with respect to support for regional organizations and before a mission in Mali. We'll reflect on those carefully before we come to any conclusions.
At the same time, some people are throwing around lines that we should immediately send hundreds of thousands of Canadian troops for peacekeeping. We have one side, a military government that took power in a coup last year, and another side, an al-Qaeda affiliate. I don't think they're going to sign on for a peacekeeping mission. It is very much going to be an insurgency on the ground, as we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before we make some expeditious, quick decision to send in Canadian troops, we should look at the facts. That's why we have been very clear that that's not something we're looking at doing.
Does that mean that Canada won't be involved? No. We can support ECOWAS, the UN, and Mali's neighbours.
I think one of the things central to the December 20 resolution of the Security Council is that it be African-led, and we strongly support that. We've seen the success that can lead to, for example, in Somalia, where a substantial amount of Canadian resources have gone into having other African Union member forces provide support there. That's the strategy Canadians will get behind, not sending Canadian troops to Mali.
Thank you, and I thank my colleague.
Thank you, Ministers, for coming.
Previously, some of your members on this committee alluded to polls that Canadians had about involvement in Mali, Africa. Minister, you alluded to your good people on the ground and in Foreign Affairs. I just hope that your government is not driven by polls on what we do in some of these areas and that you take advice from diplomats and people on the ground.
It's good to see Mr. Obhrai here. Mr. Obhrai and I travelled to Mali a few years ago. We had a good sense of the importance of Canada to Mali in how we've participated there right up to the present time. We had ambassadors here, and the ambassador from Mali was here. They were very concerned about the presence that Canada has on the ground. You alluded to how they dropped their CIDA office in Niger. There's no CIDA office in Mali.
There's a concern about going forward. Yes, humanitarian aid is all right now, but what happens...? Canada is so important to the future of Mali. Where are we going to be? What specifically will your government do to help them? We helped them a lot with funding for education, health, and various things like that, which we're not really funding right now. And what are your plans in helping them with long-term development? That was brought up with the Mali ambassador, that is, the concern that we don't have anybody on the ground.
When this so-called transition happens, there's a major concern that we're not going to be ready to fill that void that we always filled with the Malians before.