Twelve of the world’s poorest countries – including Afghanistan, Pakistan and seven nations in Africa – are going to be hit as the Conservative government looks to slash $377 million in foreign aid over the next three years.
The exact impact on each country is unclear, but the cuts are expected to prompt anger and frustration from the affected countries, which rely on international assistance to provide food and other services to millions of citizens. A number had already seen major reductions three years ago.
A source within the Canadian International Development Agency said Benin, Niger, Cambodia, China, Nepal, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe were expected to lose virtually all Canadian aid funding.
At the same time, the source said, reductions are planned for five major aid recipients: Afghanistan, Bolivia, Mozambique, Pakistan and Tanzania.
CIDA officials refused to comment on the cuts Thursday, saying Canadians, aid groups and affected countries would be told in the coming weeks how the changes would impact them.
The revelation came a day after one-quarter of CIDA’s 2,000 employees were told that their jobs were on the line, with 300 expected to be laid off.
Until recently, Afghanistan was the largest recipient of Canadian aid in the world, receiving more than $200 million per year by 2011. This money was spent on things such as building and repairing schools, training Afghan civil servants and providing polio vaccines.
The decision to cut assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan will be viewed as another sign of Canada’s waning interest in the volatile Central Asian region in advance of a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014.
A Pakistani diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the high commission in Ottawa had heard rumours CIDA was looking to pare back assistance to the Asian nation, which totalled $143.6 million last year. However, the diplomat said no confirmation had been received as of Thursday.
Benin, Niger, Cambodia, Rwanda and Zambia were already downgraded as aid partners when the Conservative government shook up CIDA in February 2009.
Following widespread criticism, CIDA Minister Bev Oda sought to reassure those nations that were impacted, some of which only learned of the change through the media, that they could still receive Canadian assistance.
“No countries will be dropped if they have needs and we will respond appropriately,” she said at the time. “We’re not abandoning countries. If there are needs, we will assess the best way to meet those needs.”
A Rwandan diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said there had been reports from CIDA staff fresh cuts were coming, but the embassy also had not yet received any official notice.
The diplomat said there would be impacts if Canada were to end all assistance to Rwanda, but refused to speculate on the extent to which the African nation would be affected until details were made available.
Bolivia, Mozambique and Tanzania, all of which are home to significant Canadian mining and energy interests, had been identified as so-called CIDA “countries of focus,” which meant they were on a list of 20 nations receiving the bulk of Canadian assistance.
Their inclusion is a surprise, particularly Tanzania’s, which has been an important ally of Canada in the eastern part of Africa and is home to large investments by Barrick Gold and other companies.
Lucien Bradet, president of the Canadian Council on Africa, said relations between the Conservative government and African nations had been improving recently after years of tension over budget cuts and apparent disinterest.
But the CIDA cuts, he said, will reopen old wounds and make the government’s goal of doing more business with the continent more difficult.