Canada has quietly dropped Sudan from its list of priority countries for foreign aid, a new report from the Department of Foreign Affairs shows, just as the United Nations warns of a resurgence of violence in the country's conflict-torn Darfur region.
The department's annual report on plans and priorities, published this month, makes no mention of the African country in a list describing Canada's top 20 destinations for foreign aid. South Sudan, which split from its northern neighbour in 2011, remains on the list and the other 19 priority countries are unchanged.
Sudan was at one time among the top three recipients of Canadian foreign aid and a significant diplomatic priority. The Department of Foreign Affairs created a Sudan Task Force to co-ordinate diplomatic, military and development work in the region, including in Darfur, but the group has since been disbanded.
After Sudan and South Sudan split, Canada kept both countries on its list of priority nations that receive the bulk of its official development assistance. However, aid dollars for the region had increasingly been directed to South Sudan in recent years.
A spokesperson for the newly-amalgamated Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development would not say why Sudan was left off the department's list or explain what the omission signifies.
"The government is constantly reviewing its assistance strategies in all countries (including Sudan) to ensure funding is effective and priorities are up to date," Alex Asselin wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. "The previously unified Sudan was named a country of development focus in 2009. Following the formal separation of South Sudan, development programs in both successor states continued."
Mr. Asselin said Canada would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to both countries, adding, "As was the case under a unified Sudan, the majority of Canada's development assistance is provided to South Sudan."
Violent conflicts and humanitarian crises continue in both countries. The United Nations warned earlier this month about an increase in violence in Darfur, where an estimated 50,000 people have been displaced since the end of February. And an alleged coup in South Sudan last year sparked a broader conflict that has been described as a civil war.
NDP international development critic Helene Laverdiere said the reduction in aid to Sudan is part of a long-term trend that has seen the Conservative government pay less attention to countries in Africa.
She said there are "huge needs" in Sudan, and particularly in the Darfur region, which should not be ignored. "It's really sad that we're moving away from Sudan," Ms.Laverdiere said. "I understand these are not countries where it's easy to work. But we shouldn't only be working where it's easy."
An internal document obtained by The Globe and Mail last year showed the former Canadian International Development Agency recommended reducing or ending aid to Sudan because it is not of "strategic importance" to Canada.
Called Reviewing CIDA's Bilateral Engagement, the report says that Canada can play a role in the prevention of humanitarian crises and efforts to maintain peace. However, the document said it has become increasingly difficult for donors to deliver humanitarian aid and development programs to Sudan. The report recommended that aid to South Sudan should continue.
Kim Mackrael is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.