August 29, 2017 7:45 pm
Updated: August 29, 2017 8:09 pm

ANALYSIS: In new Middle East aid package, Trudeau confirms switch in focus from ‘survival’ to ‘thrival’

There were some top-level talks in Ottawa, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with the King of Jordan. The focus was on humanitarian projects built with Canada's $180 million in aid. As it turns out, Canada's efforts there are shifting in an important new direction. David Akin explains.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new aid funding Tuesday for projects in Jordan and the Middle East, projects that confirm how Canada’s foreign aid focus has changed since his government took office compared to its Conservative predecessor.

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Both governments were and are remarkably consistent in their aid priorities to the region. A Global Affairs Canada database of foreign aid projects lists gender equality, protection of children, and environmental sustainability as the “policy markers” on just about all of the three dozen aid projects in Jordan most of which were approved or initiated by the government of Stephen Harper and which were continued by the Trudeau government.

But those in the aid community say there has been a change of focus, a reflection not so much of ideological differences between Conservatives and Liberals as it is a reflection of aid priorities that have morphed from acute needs at the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2010 to one which is trying to prepare a displaced population for a future once the fighting stops.

READ MORE: Canada urged to direct women’s aid to small, grassroots groups

“If you take health for example, there’s been an evolution in terms of the things that are being funded,” said Martin Fischer, the Ottawa-based director of policy for World Vision Canada. “The Harper government had a very strong and very important focus on hard deliverables such as vaccines and making sure children are well fed, essentially that we meet the demands of the Millenial Development goals that were focused on survival.

“Now, we’re focused on ‘thrival’. In some places, we’ve ensured that children survive past their fifth birthday. How do we make sure that they’re educated? How do we make sure that boys and girls are treated equally?”

WATCH: World Vision policy director Martin Fischer speaks to Global National’s David Akin about the ‘evolution’ of foreign aid funding focus from the Harper government to the Trudeau government.

That new term — ‘thrival’ — simultaneously recognizes the transient or temporary nature of a refugee’s existence but also recognizes that hundreds of thousands of refugees have been out of their country for five, six or seven years now and have been creating semi-permanent lives often living side-by-side with local populations in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey or Iraq.

For charities like World Vision Canada or any number of its peers such as World University Service of Canada, CARE Canada, Save the Children Canada and others, a focus on ‘thrival’ projects is a focus on the future.

“If you don’t look at children’s needs 10 or 15 years down the road, we will be in a regional mess that is much more complicated than it is now,” Fischer said. “If we don’t educate Jordanian children, if we don’t educate Syrian children, we won’t have societies they can re-build whenever these conflicts stop.”

As an example, many small Jordanian villages have been swamped with Syrian refugees. The rapid influx of Syrian refugees, then, causes rents to rise as demand for apartments rapidly outstrips supply. That breeds resentment of refugees by Jordanians and that can make it difficult for refugee children and families to successfully integrate into the village.

READ MORE: Donald Trump cuts foreign aid as Africa faces ‘largest humanitarian crisis’ in 70 years

Part of World Vision’s answer to this problem is to install solar panels on rooftops of residential buildings. As a result, higher rents are offset by sharply lower energy bills. World Vision is in the midst of a three-year project to do this and has received about $20 million in Canadian aid money to do it.

This is not the ‘medicine-and-blankets’ aid relief typical of an acute crisis but it’s the kind of aid project Canada is now more interested in as it seeks to bring some stability to the region.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with King Abdullah ll of Jordan as they walk through the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday August 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

So, on Tuesday, Trudeau announced a package of new aid funding worth a combined $45.3 million that, as the accompanying press release said, “promote economic development, the empowerment of women, and the resilience of refugee-hosting communities in Jordan and the Middle East.”

One of those projects is an increased contribution to the Global Concessional Financing Facility, a pool of funds that can be tapped to help build local infrastructure in Jordan.

READ MORE: Bill Morneau defends foreign aid budget: Canada must do more with less

“By supporting these projects, we’re improving health outcomes, establishing new education opportunities, and creating jobs on the ground, ultimately helping both refugees and local citizens give back to their communities,” Trudeau told reporters as he stood next to Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the House of Commons foyer.

Since 2010, projects in Jordan have easily consumed more of Canada’s foreign aid budget than any other country in the region. More than 27 per cent of the more than $1.5 billion in Canadian aid money sent to the region has gone to Jordan.

By comparison, just 6.2 per cent went to projects in Lebanon and 5.5 per cent to projects inside Syria.

“We both believe in the values of tolerance and dialogue and the importance of countering extremist ideologies and hate speech,” King Abdullah II told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday. “The fight against the global threats of terrorism and extremism can only be won within a holistic approach that exceeds military and security measures to encompass economic, social and ideological aspects.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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