Canada extends Pakistan flood aid

OTTAWA — The federal government is extending its deadline and will continue matching private donations of flood relief assistance to Pakistan.

OTTAWA — The federal government is extending its deadline and will continue matching private donations of flood relief assistance to Pakistan.

Conservative House Leader John Baird made the announcement Sunday at the offices of aid organization CARE Canada, where he said the program to match charitable donations dollar-for-dollar is being extended for another three weeks.

“We can and call upon Canadians’ legendary, legendary generosity to ensure help reaches those who are most truly in need,” said Baird.

Ottawa’s original six-week program was set to expire Sunday.

The program sparked an increase in charitable giving to a Canadian relief effort that until that point had largely failed to generate much public interest. Kevin McCort, president of CARE, said donations jumped two- and three-fold after the government announced it would match funds on Aug. 22.

But the donations appear to remain only a fraction of the amount that Canadians poured into Haiti following last year’s devastating earthquake and after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean six years ago.

“We’ve been dealing with many questions about the reluctance to donate because when you compare to Haiti, to tsunami, the donation levels are less,” McCort said Sunday.

Muslims celebrated Eid-al-Fitr this weekend — the holiest day of the Islamic calendar that ends the month-long fast of Ramadan — and community leaders suggest the fast may have suppressed charitable giving from that sector.

The slow summer holiday season when Canadians were travelling or not attuned to public events, concerns about corruption in Pakistan, and donor fatigue from the Haiti outpouring have also been cited.

Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper both made personal donations to charities on Sunday in an effort to lead by example.

Ottawa unilaterally pledged $33 million in relief assistance before agreeing to match public donations, with no upper limit.

Baird said the government did not have a dollar total as of Sunday for the level of matching donations, since registered charities are still compiling their own pledges.

An estimated 1,700 people have died during the worst floods in Pakistan in at least 80 years, but doctors and aid workers fear the real toll will rise in future months as flood waters linger, spreading disease and wiping out crops.

A fifth of the country has been flooded, and as many as 10 million people displaced or left homeless.

The United Nations says half a million Pakistanis have respiratory infections and thousand of others have malaria and acute diarrhoea.

Bev Oda, the federal minister for International Co-operation, will travel to Pakistan later this month to see the devastation and aid relief efforts first hand.