Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for the opportunity to have this discussion with you. I'm delighted to be in Ottawa.
We live in a world with multiple challenges and various things under strain. My responsibility, as the under-secretary-general at the UN for humanitarian affairs and as the person whose job it is to coordinate humanitarian action around the world by the Red Cross, the NGOs, and the UN, is to try to reduce the suffering and save the lives of people in the most extreme circumstances.
One thing I want to say to you this morning is that the world's humanitarian system is an effective system. Last year, the United Nations reached 100 million people in humanitarian crises, unquestionably saving millions of lives. We raised a record amount of money, $15 billion, mostly from UN member states, in order to reduce the suffering of those people.
Canada is a very important contributor to those efforts. It's very important to me as I travel around the world doing my job to have opportunities like this to interact with you, because the humanitarian agencies are financed on a completely voluntary basis, and they're financed mostly by the taxpayers of countries like Canada. To have an opportunity to answer your questions, the kind of questions you get from your constituents, for me is an important opportunity, so thank you again.
I thought I would say a word about some of the major crises around the world that I know lots of people are focused on. First, let me just say, if I may, a word about the crisis in Yemen, the world's biggest humanitarian crisis—24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, 10 million of them just a step away from starvation.
On Tuesday next week, the UN Secretary-General, with the help of the governments of Sweden and Switzerland, will be hosting a pledging conference of the donor countries in Geneva to ask for support for our appeal for Yemen for this year. We're seeking $4 billion U.S. to reduce the suffering and save the lives of up to 19 million Yemenis, more than half the population of the country.
We have had lots of challenges in running our relief program in Yemen, but we have unquestionably saved huge numbers of lives and reduced suffering. We can go on doing that only if the countries of the world are generous in continuing to finance us.
Humanitarian assistance in Yemen, like everywhere else, does not solve the underlying problems, but it does save lives and it buys time for the political processes and the recovery from these kinds of crises.
Probably the issue in humanitarian terms that most people have seen most of over the last seven years has been the impact of the war in Syria. The UN is looking for something like $25 billion in total for our humanitarian assistance programs in 2019, and more than a third of that is to deal with the ongoing consequences of the crisis in Syria. Huge numbers of refugees, six million in neighbouring countries, but also millions and millions of Syrians inside the country continue to need assistance.
We will very shortly be publishing our assessment of the overall needs in Syria this year, and then, in mid-March, there will be a pledging conference in Brussels, hosted by the UN and the EU, to seek support for the program. Last year, we thought there were 13 million people in need inside Syria, and this year the needs are somewhat lower, about 10% lower. That still means that we have a huge need for resources to support those people.
The situation across the country has changed over the last year or so. The Government of Syria has control over more parts of the country than it used to, but there remain huge humanitarian needs among the people in the parts of the country that the government controls. There is also the ongoing effort to deal with the remainder of the ISIL problem in northeastern Syria and the implications of the decisions taken by the U.S. administration to leave northeastern Syria, as well as the very dramatic situation faced by three million civilians in Idlib province in northwestern Syria who have found themselves, through no fault of their own, caught up with proscribed terrorist organizations that are holding, with other opposition groups, that part of the country.
One of the things we've been saying, the UN Secretary-General and I, over the last six months or so, is that there must not be a massive military onslaught in that part of Syria of the sort we've seen in other parts of the country in the last few years. This would be catastrophic for those three million civilians, a million of whom have already fled from other parts of the country, and a million of whom are children. So we remain very concerned about Idlib.
I want to say a word about Venezuela. Let me be clear: There is absolutely a humanitarian problem in Venezuela.
The UN has been working for some time now to try to address that. Back in November, we developed a plan to scale up the programs of UN agencies on things like vaccinations, drugs for hospitals and dealing with a significant malnutrition problem. We continue to do that work, and we would like more opportunity, candidly, to relieve the suffering of the people in Venezuela.
Our stance on Venezuela is that the humanitarian issues need to be dealt with as humanitarian issues, in ways that are neutral and impartial, independent and based on need. That is the approach we take in everything we do inside Venezuela.
We also think there is obviously a need for more support for the countries neighbouring Venezuela, to which 3.4 million Venezuelans have fled. We have a UN appeal out at the moment for $738 million to support those people, which is not as well financed as I would like it to be.
I'd like to mention—because it's a topic that I am asked about a lot—where things stand with eradicating the Ebola outbreak in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is the largest Ebola outbreak the world has seen since that very large problem that many of you will recall in West Africa in 2014-15. There are many hundreds of cases now in eastern DRC, and hundreds of deaths.
It's proving difficult to bring it under control, essentially because of the behaviour and activities of armed groups that are stopping the aid agencies from doing their jobs. Our expectation is that it's going to take some time longer to deal fully with that outbreak.
One of the things we are very conscious of is the risk of its spreading into neighbouring countries. One of the big things we're doing is helping South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda prepare for the possibility of a case crossing their borders and prepare for dealing with it well. One way in which this problem could get significantly worse would be if it spread to other places.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to make one other point, if I may, before I finish my opening remarks, which is that most people caught up in humanitarian crises around the world are girls and women. They are the majority, and girls and women suffer in very extreme ways in humanitarian crises. There are twice as many girls out of school as boys in these crises. Services to girls and women—reproductive health services, for example—are dramatically under-provided for in humanitarian crises. There is a terrible problem of brutal, cruel violence—systematic, often—against girls and women in too many of the crises, especially the ones where conflict is the origin of the problem.
One of the reasons I am in Ottawa for the next couple of days is that, for some time, I've wanted to give a speech about how the world's humanitarian system—which, as I've said, is a good system that saves millions of lives—needs to do a much better job for girls and women in these crises. Tomorrow, here in Ottawa, I will be giving a speech on that topic.
The reason I want to do it here is that Canada is a global leader on this issue. The feminist international assistance policy, which Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau published, as well as all the things that happened at Whistler and all the other things that Canada has done, puts Canada in a position of leadership in this area. I would like to set out some new ideas on how the whole world can strengthen the support it provides to women and girls in crisis. I thought that this was a good place to do it.
I'm very happy to answer your more detailed questions on that point and on anything else.
Thank you very much indeed.