Canada not yet ready to up the ante on Pakistan flood relief

OTTAWA — Canada won’t immediately up the ante on aid for flood-stricken Pakistan, even though the United Nations wants $460 million in immediate relief and an American official says rebuilding will cost billions.

OTTAWA — Canada won’t immediately up the ante on aid for flood-stricken Pakistan, even though the United Nations wants $460 million in immediate relief and an American official says rebuilding will cost billions.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said there are no plans to spend more than the $33 million already allocated, but added ”we are not closing any options to further assist the people of Pakistan in their hour of need.”

Cannon was in New York for a special meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

”The purpose of the meeting today (Thursday) is . . . to focus the world community’s attention on the gravity of the situation that is taking place,” he said in a teleconference.

In the aftermath of last winter’s Haitian earthquake and the devastating tsunami of 2004, the federal government offered to match private donations dollar-for-dollar, but that has not yet happened in this case.

Cannon’s comment about options suggests that such a program may be in the offing and a Queen’s University professor and expert on charitable giving said she expects an announcement soon.

”The government’s coming up with a matching plan that will act as an inducement towards Canadians to donate more seriously,” said Kathy Brock, a professor in the university’s School of Policy Studies. ”I think that’s coming and that will have an effect on donations.”

Brock said the government has become more cautious about disaster relief.

”They’re going to have a phased response,” she said. ”One of the things, I think, that Haiti and the tsunami have taught us is that we have to stretch our dollars out because these things have long-term consequences.

”The government is learning to respond in that way. I think it’s a more measured response as opposed to a sluggish response.”

Similarly, she said, ordinary donors are also wary: ”They responded quickly to the tsunami and Haiti and there were some questions raised afterwards about how the dollars were spent, whether charities had used them effectively. Canadians are a little more cautious about their giving.”

She also said that the timing of the disaster has likely had an impact on donations. Canadians are preoccupied with summer vacations and aren’t paying much attention to the news. Families are also looking at back-to-school needs, from clothes to notebooks and computers and may not have a lot of discretionary dollars handy.

Cannon met Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to discuss the disaster.

Qureshi has said tens of thousands of villages are submerged and around 1,500 people have died. More than 20 million people have been hit by the floods.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said it will take billions of dollars to restore and rebuild once the waters recede.

After listening to speeches by high-level representatives of some 20 countries at the UN Thursday, Qureshi said he was assured that the $460 million goal “is going to be easily met,” including “$100 million plus” from Saudi Arabia.

With files from The Associated Press