Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege to speak before the House today to this important matter.
There are many reasons why Canada is in Afghanistan but they all come down to the same basic principle: we are there to help a people and a country in need. We are there because Canadians care about helping those affected by turmoil and upheaval. We are there because we can and must make a difference.
Canada is in Afghanistan under a UN mandate and at the invitation of a democratically elected Afghan government. We are part of a community of more than 60 nations and organizations that have united to help the Afghan government rebuild the country and restore freedom, human rights, democracy and the rule of law, values that we cherish in our own country but that have been denied to the people of Afghanistan for far too long.
Canada's mission in Afghanistan is one of partnership. We are working closely, not only with the government of Afghanistan, but also with other allied nations and with trusted non-government partners. Partnership is the only viable strategy for bringing lasting peace and development to this troubled nation.
One aspect of this partnership is military. Canadian soldiers are doing absolutely critical work to bring stability to a country that has been torn apart by internal strife for decades. They are helping to create secure conditions in which development and reconstruction can flourish.
However, it is the development side of the mission that I would like to focus on today and, more particularly, the work of our dedicated partners on the ground, partners who have invested heavily in the future of Afghanistan and whose work is literally transforming lives. These partners include UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme, to name just a few. They are among the most highly experienced, most trusted and most accountable organizations in the world. They have proven records of delivering tangible results on the ground.
In 2007, for example, Canada's contribution to the World Food Programme helped feed more than 550,000 hungry people in the province of Kandahar alone. This aid targets those who are most vulnerable, including families displaced by conflict or affected by drought.
In addition to providing much needed emergency food assistance to the vulnerable, the World Food Programme also delivers aid through the food for work and food for education projects, helping individuals build essential skills and rehabilitate their community's infrastructure.
Last year, Canadian funds supported the construction or rehabilitation of more than 3,000 kilometres of canals and more than 250 kilometres of roads in Kandahar through the food for work initiatives.
In addition, more than 30,000 people in the province benefited from functional literacy training and more than 4,000 people received vocational skills training through the food for education initiative.
Canada's support for organizations working in the area of health also deserves special recognition. For example, our contributions to UNICEF have supported the delivery of a large scale measles and tetanus vaccination campaign in Kandahar. This program has reached more than 200,000 children and more than 175,000 women of childbearing age.
Also, as part of this project, UNICEF is providing essential non-food items, such as blankets and sweaters, to thousands of vulnerable families. Medical and nutritional supplies, including emergency health kits, are also being provided to those in need.
Canada is also a strong supporter of the World Health Organization's polio eradication efforts. Our contribution is helping to immunize more than 7 million children against polio, including approximately 350,000 children in Kandahar province.
Health and food aid are important aspects of our work in Afghanistan but we are also helping to rebuild institutions of government.
Reconstruction efforts will fail unless democratic institutions are established that can ensure security, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Canada's governance programs help ensure that laws are both just and arrived at democratically. We support independent, effective institutions that enforce those laws so that everyone can feel safe in their communities and homes. For example, with support from Canada, the International Development Law Organization has trained more than 70 prosecutors in financial and juvenile crime and more than 200 judges have been trained in civil, criminal and commercial law and procedure.
Also thanks to financial aid from Canada, Rights & Democracy has opened women's centres throughout Afghanistan, providing women with basic services, such as legal aid, and giving them a refuge in a place where they can feel safe and supported.
We are also supporting initiatives to strengthen human rights, including the deployment of a gender adviser to the minister of interior and support to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which promotes human rights and investigates violations with an emphasis on women and children.
My goal in coming here today was to underscore just how big a difference our contributions are making in Afghanistan, and this progress is all being achieved against long odds. Not only are we working in one of the most volatile and difficult environments in the world, we are also almost starting from scratch.
Emerging in 2001 from decades of violence and conflict, there is almost nothing left in Afghanistan. The country's infrastructure was grazed to the ground. Its landscape was contaminated by mines. Its people lived in abject poverty and the basic services, such as health care and education, were virtually non-existent. However, despite these challenges, real progress is being made.
Day to day, community by community, Afghans are laying the foundations for a brighter future. This speaks both to their fortitude and their resilience as people and to the sustained support and commitment of the international community.
I look forward to continuing to be part of these important discussions as we continue to support the people of Afghanistan in the years ahead.