Development and Humanitarian Assistance in Middle East and North Africa

In recent years, countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have made significant improvements in the delivery of public health and education services, most notably falling child-mortality rates, and increases in average life expectancy, and in school-enrolment and literacy rates. Significant challenges remain, however, both between and within countries, and for specific demographic groups, such as youth and women.

Countries in the region are facing a slowdown in economic growth caused by prolonged conflict and political instability in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen; terrorist incidents in Algeria and Tunisia that have hurt tourism; low oil prices; and the slow pace of political and economic reforms. Slow economic growth in turn increases negative social pressures and wealth disparities, and decreases the quality of, and access to, employment. With a population of 355 million, the MENA region has a large youth population (64% are 15-24 years old), with one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world (25%).

In terms of gender equality, several countries in the region have adopted policies and mechanisms to benefit women. While progress has been made, notably in female literacy and health outcomes, a gender gap persists, particularly in political and economic participation.

The MENA region also faces substantial energy and water challenges, and is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The region is one of the world’s most water-scarce and dry regions, with a high dependency on climate-sensitive agriculture and a large share of its population and economic activity in flood-prone urban coastal zones.

Development Assistance

Working to achieve its development priorities in the region, Canada focuses its international-development efforts in Jordan, and in the West Bank and Gaza. Over recent years, Canada’s support for Jordan has grown substantially, reflecting its key role in this volatile region as well as the rising tension and urgency resulting from the influx of refugees into the country. Canada’s development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza helps Palestinians build the foundations of a viable, democratic Palestinian state that will support peace and security with Israel. Canada also works with Egypt, Iraq and Morocco as development partners in the region, and has provided additional assistance to MENA through the Deauville Partnership’s MENA Transition Fund, administered by the World Bank.

Canada’s development assistance in the MENA region addresses challenges for vulnerable groups, particularly women and youth. In fact, Canada encourages sustainable economic growth, helps build the resilience of local institutions and populations, and strengthens good governance. Canada’s work in the region contributes not only to the reduction of poverty, but also to the promotion of regional stability.

In February 2016, the Government of Canada announced a new strategy to address the crisis in the Middle East (focusing on Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria). It included a commitment of $270 million in bilateral development assistance over the next three years (2016-2017 to 2018-2019) to build local capacity by providing basic social services; by maintaining and rehabilitating public infrastructure; by fostering inclusive growth and employment; and by advancing inclusive and accountable governance. Programming will focus on helping women and youth; improving maternal, newborn and child health; and advancing gender equality. Programming will also focus on promoting environmental sustainability.

International development assistance in the Middle East and North Africa region will remain a vital part of Canada’s response to the global agenda that has been set through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Canada will continue to work to end extreme poverty; fight inequality and injustice; and effectively address environmental degradation and climate change.

Humanitarian assistance

The Syrian and Iraq crisis is the largest and most complex humanitarian emergency of our time and has greatly affected the MENA region. There are more than 8 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and the emergence of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has exacerbated an already protracted crisis in Syria and in Iraq, where there are now an estimated 10 million internally displaced people. There are 13.5 million people in Syria and 10 million people in Iraq in need of humanitarian assistance – including 7.5 million in hard-to-reach areas – with the ongoing conflict as the primary constraint to accessing those in need. The humanitarian situation grows more dire and complex every day.

The conflict has radically reshaped the demographics of a region with an already delicate ethnic and religious balance, as well as scarce resources. Refugees from Syria and Iraq have poured across the borders of neighboring states to escape fighting, with the majority being absorbed into local communities in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. As a result, the populations of towns that were already hard-pressed to provide essential services doubled and tripled.

Canada’s international humanitarian assistance in the region aims to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain the dignity of those affected by conflicts and natural disasters by providing appropriate, timely and effective responses. Canada recognizes that humanitarian assistance is especially important for people affected by natural disasters, conflicts, or acute food insecurity in developing countries.

As part of its new approach in response to the crises in Iraq and Syria, the Government of Canada will contribute $840 million over the next three years to help meet the basic needs of people affected by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Canada is also providing humanitarian-assistance funding in response to humanitarian crises in Yemen, Libya, and the West Bank and Gaza.