Mr. Speaker, few topics are higher on the public agenda today than Canada's role in Afghanistan and our government welcomes all debate on Canada's mission. As my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, has pointed out, Canada's mission means working alongside our NATO allies and Afghan security and military forces.
Canada is in Afghanistan to stabilize a country after years of chaos, oppression and violence. Today insurgents are terrorizing the people with horrendous acts that have no bounds or limitations. As part of the United Nations international effort, on the invitation of a democratically elected government, Canada's military, development and aid workers are working to bring hope and a brighter future to this ravaged country.
Therefore, today I am pleased to contribute to the debate on the motion before the House, but the debate should also include the development and humanitarian aspects of the mission. It is the development side of the mission that will bring hope and confidence back to the Afghan people.
It means being able to return to one's homeland and not having to flee as refugees into a neighbouring country. It means protection for all under the law. It means being able to feed their families and protect their children from exploitation. It means learning to read and write. It means health and access to medical services. It means spending an afternoon going to the stadium to see a soccer game, not witnessing executions. It means celebrating and preserving a rich culture and history that spans thousands of years. That is what bringing humanitarian aid and development means to the Afghan people.
I would like to focus today on the development part of the mission. We should have an informed debate. It should be based on facts and not on disinformation. It should take into account the difficult environment in Afghanistan, especially in Kandahar.
This is not a typical Canadian aid mission. The Afghan people have seen conflict and turmoil for over three decades. They have seen their schools and universities closed, hospitals destroyed, houses bombed and families in crisis. They have seen their property and businesses taken away. They have seen their family members seized, beaten and killed outside of any legal system, and they have lived under a rule where human life has little value.
Canada is in Afghanistan helping to rebuild one of the most impoverished countries in the world, a country that only a few years ago was controlled by one of the most oppressive regimes of modern times. We are there to restore freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We are there to help rebuild institutions, relieve suffering and hardship and reduce poverty.
Conditions for delivering assistance are far from ideal but this is no reason for us to abandon the Afghan people. In fact, it is more reason why Canada's presence is needed and will be needed for many years to come.
Laying the foundations for lasting peace and stability takes great effort and commitment. Despite the challenges we face in Afghanistan, it is important not to lose sight of the real and measurable difference being made in the lives of millions of Afghans. Experience has taught us that sustainable results are best achieved when local populations take the lead and are part of the process and assume ownership. As such, our work, led by the Afghan government, is focused on initiatives that promote community ownership and accountability.
The national solidarity program is Afghanistan's flagship program for community development. To date, with Canada's support, remarkable results have been achieved, with more than 16,500 completed community projects, including the construction of wells, roads, bridges and irrigation canals, projects that make a difference.
Canada is also the principal donor to the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan, or MISFA. It provides small loans and financial services to more than 400,000 clients, over two-thirds of them women. That is nearly half a million people now able to increase their incomes, rebuild their lives and support their families. We know that it is making a difference.
Working with the Afghan government, through the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund, CIDA contributes to salary payments for civil servants, including teachers. Let me assure members that this fund is structured with the necessary checks and balances to ensure that the money goes to those it is intended to go to.
I am proud that Canada is the leading contributor to the education quality improvement project, Afghanistan's largest education initiative. This project is building schools, enhancing school management capacity and training teachers, with an emphasis on promoting increased opportunities for girls. Today, an unprecedented number of boys and girls are attending school, a difference I was heartened to witness firsthand when I visited the country.
Through one project, 4,000 schools are being established and 9,000 teachers are being trained.
Another project, with the Aga Khan Foundation, will focus on early childhood education, improve teacher training for women, provide distance education and improve school facilities. This project alone will benefit more than 100,000 girls and 4,600 teachers in close to 360 Afghan schools.
With projects and results like those, Canada is truly making a difference. It is an undisputed fact that increasing access to education for young Afghan children is crucial for the future of that country.
Another area of focus has been in the health care sector. Only with healthy minds and bodies will Afghanistan be able to rebuild its communities and its country. Today, more than 80% of the population now has access to basic medical services, compared to less than 10% in 2002.
There is a substantial drop in infant mortality. There are fewer infants dying in Afghanistan every year. More than seven million children will be immunized against polio, a crippling disease no longer seen in Canada. We can actually see a future when polio can also be eradicated in Afghanistan.
Those are real results, results that are making a difference today and will mean a stronger future tomorrow.
During my trip to Afghanistan, I also saw that Canada was working, not only with the Afghan government, but also with 60 other allied nations and committed international and Canadian partners. These partners are among the most highly experienced, reputable and accountable organizations in the world. For example, our support to the world food program helped deliver food aid to more than six million Afghans last year, including more than 400,000 in Kandahar province. I recently announced additional support to help feed up to 2.5 million more people now facing food shortages as a result of rising food prices.
It is with UNICEF and the World Health Organization that the children are being vaccinated against polio and, of those seven million, there are approximately 350,000 in Kandahar province. Our support for measles and tetanus vaccinations has reached more than 200,000 children and 175,000 women of child bearing age in the south.
CIDA also supports women's centres that provide basic services, such as literacy training, health and legal aid services and a refuge where they can feel safe and supported. We recognize that our efforts to improve the lives of Afghan women is critical. Literacy training for women means improved nutrition and health care for their children and families.
Access to human rights and a justice system will reverse a regime under which women had no rights, a regime that meant no legal protection, no human rights, no freedom of mobility outside of the home, no access to education, no right to vote or participate in a democratic process and no rights to property or employment.
However, as the lives of the Afghan people in meeting their basic needs improve, our most important work is our support in building their institutions. We are helping to rebuild and strengthen the institutions of government. For example, supported by CIDA, the International Development Law Organization has trained more than 70 prosecutors in financial and juvenile crime, and more than 200 judges in civil, criminal and commercial law.
We are supporting the strengthening of human rights, including the new Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which promotes human rights and monitors and investigates violations.
As we move forward, we are mindful that it is good governance that holds the key to the long term viability of Afghanistan but there is still a long way to go.
As Afghan President Karzai has said, “A democratic nation is not built overnight”. The years ahead will mark the heavy lifting period. It will be the period in which sustainable Afghan institutions and its public sector must develop the capacity to deliver services to all of its citizens and take full ownership of their country.
Canada is working closely, not only with the government of Afghanistan, but also with other allied nations and experienced development partners. However, whether CIDA's assistance flows through national programs or through NGOs, this government must ensure that our Canadian dollars are being spent effectively and accountability.
In Afghanistan, CIDA strives for results with an approach that responds to the very real risks of working in a fragile state and in an area of conflict. Monitoring, reporting and evaluation are applied at three levels: first, at the country level through a joint coordination and monitoring board, the board assesses development progress against concrete benchmarks in the Afghanistan compact; second, at the program level, detailed monitoring and assessment of progress being made measures that collectively we are achieving the intended results; and finally, at the project level, CIDA employs feasibility and risk assessments, contractual agreements that include established reporting requirements, site monitoring visits and audits. In addition, CIDA approves annual work plans from its partners and received progress and financial reports.
Working with trusted partners, such as the World Bank and UNICEF, CIDA is also able to leverage the accountability and oversight mechanisms of these well-established organizations.
However, there have been those who have criticized our development activity in Afghanistan and we take those criticisms seriously. To be sure, Afghanistan is a challenging environment so we are constantly working to improve and achieve better coordination and to focus on maximizing results. To this end, we introduced the Kandahar local initiative program, a quick impact program that means we can respond swiftly to fluctuating needs on the ground.
To achieve greater flexibility and responsiveness, we have doubled CIDA's presence in the field in the past year and will continue increasing our numbers in Afghanistan. We have moved decisions on staff movement within Afghanistan to the field. I will increase the level of project responsibility and authority in the field and we have a new Canadian envoy in Afghanistan to coordinate our Canadian efforts.
Taken together, those steps are examples of how we continuously strive to meet the unique challenges faced in Afghanistan.
There are other recommendations regarding CIDA's work in Afghanistan that will also be improved. We will ensure regular reports are available to Canadians of the progress being made. We will seek opportunities to enhance recognition of Canada's presence in its development work and we will continue to work toward increasing donor coordination among our partner countries, aid agencies and NGOs to achieve better effectiveness.
However, let us not forget the results we have already achieved: some six million children in school, access to basic health care for more than 83% of Afghans, cut tuberculosis deaths in half, reduced child mortality rates by almost a quarter and a 55% decline in the number of landmine victims with over 520,000 mines destroyed and more than a billion square metres of land cleared.
We are achieving results. We are making a difference. As our work proceeds, we must ensure that the Afghan people can strengthen their belief in themselves and their government to deliver good governance, the rule of law, and basic human rights. They must see a brighter future for their families and communities.
For these results to be sustainable, we must stay the course.
That being said, nobody is denying that we face tremendous obstacles. As has been noted, there can be no development without security. There will be no development and aid workers in the field without security. To quote the Manley report, “security is an essential condition of good governance and lasting development”.
The environment in which we are operating is one of the most volatile and demanding our Canadian aid and development workers have ever had to face. As responsible members of the international community, we cannot simply turn our backs on the people of Afghanistan. I therefore encourage all members of Parliament to support the government motion.
I remind the House that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and when it is the right thing to do, Canadians are tough. Historically they have shown that they do not run. They stay to face the battle.
I know that the members of the military we honoured in the past year at Vimy Ridge and Dieppe did not enter the battles, put on their uniforms and go out to fight that day knowing that it was going to be easy, yet they went. That is why our aid and development workers are in Afghanistan. That is why our military is there: to ensure protection and security so that we can improve the lives of all Afghans today for tomorrow.