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Every year, more than 1 billion Muslims around the world observe the holy month of Ramadan, a special time of spiritual reflection, fasting, and giving to charity.
As Muslims in Canada get ready to celebrate Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan this weekend, we are reminded of how important it is for all of us to think about those who are less fortunate or suffering, especially the millions around the world affected by conflict and disasters.
In particular, our thoughts turn to the people of the Sahel region of West Africa, who are running out of food and water and fighting for their lives. Across the region, villages are eerily quiet. Some people are eating wild berries and twigs to survive. In rural areas, mothers are walking for miles with their weakening children in their arms to get to the nearest health clinic.
This food and nutrition crisis was caused by a deadly combination of last year's drought, poor harvests, and rising food prices. This crisis is further compounded by violence and insecurity in Mali, which has forced more than 230,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries, causing an even bigger strain on food supply.
Canada is doing everything it can to provide assistance in the Sahel and is doing so quickly. In fact, Canada was one of the first nations to act, to get ahead of the crisis.
Earlier this month, I announced the creation of the Sahel Crisis Matching Fund to increase Canada's support. For every eligible dollar donated by individual Canadians to a Canadian registered charity between August 7 and September 30, 2012, the Government of Canada will set aside one dollar for the fund.
The money raised through the matching fund will help provide critical food and nutrition to women, men, and children in the Sahel. It will also help Canada work with the affected countries to address the underlying causes of food and nutrition crises so they can build resilience to future shocks.
In the spirit of self-reflection, compassion, and generosity, which are central to Ramadan and the values we all share as Canadians, I would like to call on all Canadians to lend their support for the people affected by this devastating crisis.
Together, we can help alleviate their suffering and help them to protect themselves from such disasters in the future.
I wish all of Canada's Muslims a joyous Eid al-Fitr. Assalam alaykum.