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Canada matching more donations for Pakistan flood aid, will raise cap to $5M

OTTAWA — The federal government will extend its matching of donations to help people dealing with catastrophic flooding in Pakistan in hopes the crisis doesn't fall off the public radar.
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Canadian Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, at the Canadian ambassador residence, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. Sajjan says Ottawa will match more donations for those suffering from flooding in Pakistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hussein Malla

OTTAWA — The federal government will extend its matching of donations to help people dealing with catastrophic flooding in Pakistan in hopes the crisis doesn't fall off the public radar.

"I felt that it wasn't getting the (media) coverage that a crisis like this deserves," International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a Thursday interview.

Severe monsoon rains this summer have affected more than 33 million people, many of whom have needed emergency food, water, sanitation and health services.

More than one-third of Pakistan was underwater, including much of its agricultural land, which experts believe will spark a food shortage.

Sajjan said he saw devastating scenes on a visit to the country earlier this month.

"When I was flying over affected areas, you literally could not see the end," he said.

"Countries that have had the least to do with contributing to climate change are actually now the most greatly affected by it."

On Sept. 13, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would match up to $3 million in donations made to the Humanitarian Coalition and its dozen member charities.

That matching campaign was due to end on Wednesday.

Sajjan said it will be extended, and the amount is now capped at $5 million.

Ottawa previously committed $30 million of its own spending.

Sajjan said the idea has been to respond to the immediate, interim and long-term needs of the country, to make sure the right amount of aid dollars reach the correct places.

"What we're doing is funding in chunks, to make sure we're assessing the needs in a timely basis so the resources can be there," he said.

"Now we that we have a little bit of breathing space, we are looking at the midterm need assessment."

Canada will likely fund climate mitigation work in the country once it has recovered, to lower the impact of future floods, Sajjan said.

He noted that Canada helped fund the early-warning system that officials told him was key to saving lives this summer.

That came after massive 2010 floods in Pakistan.

Within a year, the former Harper government pledged $71.8 million for relief efforts, including $46.8 million from donations Ottawa had matched.

When asked why Canada is only matching slightly more than one-tenth that amount, the Humanitarian Coalition said the funding is in line with cost-matching in past crises such as the 2021 earthquake in Haiti.

"To be sure, the match amount is modest, but it does fit within a recent range," wrote spokeswoman Marg Buchanan.

She said the amounts are based on what humanitarian groups predict people will donate, "influenced by timing, waning media interest and other dominant stories."

NDP development critic Heather McPherson argued the Liberals have been slow to put up the funding promised for other humanitarian initiatives.

She pointed to unspent funds in Ukraine and for reproductive health elsewhere.

"Their announcements are starting to be a little slim; I don't think people are feeling very reassured," McPherson said. 

The Conservatives have called on the government to allow cost-matching for more organizations responding to disasters, including the flooding in Pakistan.

“It is easier (for Ottawa) to say that it is going to match a contribution to this big player, as opposed to saying it is going to match donations to all of the organizations that are doing this work,” Garnett Genuis told the Commons this week. 

“Organizations tell me that they get calls from previous donors who say they were going to donate to what they were doing, but they actually want to donate to another organization that is getting matched.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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