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Canada World ViewAFTER THE TSUNAMI: MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Issue 25
Spring 2005

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Canada has provided expertise, funds, emergency relief and long-term support to offset some of the suffering caused by the tsunami--and help get the region back on track.

"Local people were the first to respond": Mary Heather White stands with Sri Lankan women involved in the carpentry program run by World University Service of Canada (WUSC), which is helping people to put their lives back together.

"Local people were the first to respond": Mary Heather White stands with Sri Lankan women involved in the carpentry program run by World University Service of Canada (WUSC), which is helping people to put their lives back together.

Photo: courtesy of WUSC

Mary Heather White is helping Sri Lankans put their lives back together. White, from Lion's Head, Ontario, manages a vocational training program for World University Service of Canada in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, that provides poor and unemployed people with the skills to earn a living but is now focused on addressing the devastation after the tsunami.

In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Canadian insurance company Manulife Financial, its own local offices destroyed and some 20 staff lost or unaccounted for in the disaster, has contributed $200,000 to the relief effort and is expediting the processing of claims filed by victims.

At a Buddhist temple converted into a morgue in Krabi, Thailand, RCMP Inspector Neil Fraser and a team from Canada worked with forensic experts around the clock on the physically and emotionally demanding job of identifying victims of the deadly waves.

"The scope and scale of the disaster were beyond people's imagination," says Fraser, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who shared responsibility for leading the 10-member team from Canada that worked for several weeks in January.

"Knowing that we were helping made our work very satisfying. We knew we were making a difference."

Whether providing expertise, donating money and relief supplies, or working directly in the 12 countries affected by the tsunami, Canadians from all walks of life, sectors, organizations and parts of the country have made a difference following the disaster. The outpouring of support for those affected in Asia Pacific builds on a long-standing relationship between Canada and the region as emergency relief turns to rehabilitation, reconstruction and other long-range efforts.

Within hours of the massive waves, the Government of Canada sprang into action at home and abroad. Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC), which is responsible for coordinating the overall government response to the crisis, convened a special disaster task force that brought together resources and expertise from more than a dozen federal departments and agencies, providing everything from forensic teams, immigration services and satellite images of affected areas to assistance for Canadian companies looking to get involved in the reconstruction process.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) responded immediately by working with multilateral and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners to channel Canada's aid. The Government of Canada has allocated $425 million toward humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and reconstruction over the next five years.

Perhaps one of Canada's most visible contributions has been the involvement of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), a military unit assigned in January and February to provide medical support and water purification to Ampara, a region in Sri Lanka where 10,000 people died and 180,000 lost their homes. During their stay, the team treated 5,500 patients, produced more than 2.5 million litres of drinking water, transported some 55,000 people across a local waterway and took on community projects such as repairing schools, building temporary shelters and clearing rubble.

One DART member, Captain Karen Trainor, a nurse practitioner based in Petawawa, Ontario, helped treat 30 to 70 people a day in mobile health clinics around the area. "Most of the hospitals were destroyed, and many doctors and nurses were killed," she said as she returned to Canada. "DART made a big difference in the eyes of Sri Lankan people."

In addition to federal funds, the provinces and territories have donated roughly $20 million. Municipalities climbed on board as well, with cities such as Calgary contributing emergency supplies and organizations like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities providing expertise to their counterparts in the region to rebuild local administrations and re-establish essential services such as sewage treatment, drinking water and public transit.

Canadian companies and unions have committed funds to help tsunami victims and are matching employee and member contributions. Firms such as Air Canada and Apotex Inc. worked with World Vision Canada to ship relief supplies like water purification equipment, clothing and non-perishable goods, and Air Canada provided transport for aid workers.

Making a contribution: Captain Karen Trainor, a nurse practitioner with Canada's DART, helped treat people in mobile health clinics in Sri Lanka, such as this girl with a skin condition.

Making a contribution: Captain Karen Trainor, a nurse practitioner with Canada's DART, helped treat people in mobile health clinics in Sri Lanka, such as this girl with a skin condition.

Photo: MCpl Paul MacGregor, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

Canadian NGOs, many of which have field offices or partners in the affected communities, were able to respond quickly to diverse priorities, from transporting the injured to hospital and building temporary housing to distributing food, medicine and clothing.

Strong ties between the NGOs and their local counterparts in Asia have helped those in need receive appropriate assistance. Both the United Church of Canada and Presbyterian World Service & Development, for example, support the Institute for Development Education (IFDE) in India, which in turn helps local women from marginalized and poor communities work together to break cycles of poverty. Even in the midst of the chaos following the tsunami, the groups took time to understand the needs of families in devastated fishing villages, creating a sense of partnership with aid recipients.

"(It made) the community feel treated with dignity and respect," IFDE Director Anitha Mahendira wrote in an e-mail to her Canadian partners.

Surely the most remarkable Canadian response to the tsunami came from the public, with individuals donating almost $200 million in contributions.

Honouring the victims: Thevi Ampi says prayers for those lost in the tsunami at a remembrance service at a Hindu temple in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Honouring the victims: Thevi Ampi says prayers for those lost in the tsunami at a remembrance service at a Hindu temple in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Photo: CP (Fred Thornhill)

Subject to guidelines, the Government of Canada will match such public donations to qualified aid groups. CIDA will receive proposals for the use of this money in the coming weeks and months.

Some individuals have felt compelled to go well beyond writing cheques, from organizing memorials and myriad events including school toonie drives, church suppers and benefit concerts in support of tsunami relief to heading to the region with organizations to lend a hand.

Mark Evans, an engineer with CBCL Limited, a consulting engineering company in Halifax, travelled to the Maldives to help Oxfam International rebuild water supplies contaminated by salt water. Evans's firm granted him a three-month paid leave of absence to do the job. "It was an opportunity that Mark did not want to pass up, and we were glad to support him on behalf of the company and of Canada," says Doug Brownrigg, the firm's Manager of Municipal Engineering.

Open house

At the front of a two-story house in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, within sight of washed-up cars and ruined buildings, a Maple Leaf flag announces a new presence for Canada on the scene of the tsunami's worst devastation. Opened on January 30 by Randolph Mank, the Canadian Ambassador to Indonesia, "Canada House Aceh" is helping to channel Canadians and Canadian support to those hardest hit by the disaster.

"It's important for people to know that Canada is here, and trying to help as best we can," says Karen Foss, a political officer posted in Indonesia and one of a team of several staff who have relocated from Jakarta to work and live at Canada House.

Located about 50 metres from where the waves stopped, the large house has quickly become a focal point for Canadian involvement in relief and reconstruction efforts. It provides on-the-ground contact for Canadian International Development Agency representatives, Indonesian officials, other donors, non-governmental organizations and even individual Canadians wanting to assist in the rehabilitation work.

Canada House is always busy, with staff coming and going between projects in the field and meetings with local people and then working long into the night on reports and preparing for the day ahead.

"I'm very proud of how the Government of Canada has responded, and impressed by all of the support coming from Canada," says Foss. "That's what makes this work so rewarding. I'll be here as long as I'm needed."

Diplomat Karen Foss: "I'll be here as long as I'm needed."

Diplomat Karen Foss: "I'll be here as long as I'm needed."

Photo: Jennifer Hart, FAC

The international community is now looking ahead to the next phase of support for affected communities in Asia: rehabilitation and long-term reconstruction.

Oxfam International, for example, is working closely with local partners in the region to design appropriate strategies for rebuilding livelihoods--everything from restoring bicycles to small-scale fishmongers to offering credit to households newly headed by women. "The bottom line is that the people affected should be in the driver's seat," says Rex Fyles, who manages Oxfam Canada's humanitarian assistance program.

The Government of Canada is working to identify the best ways for Canada to support long-term reconstruction. A team from Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and CIDA has assessed the environmental impact of the tsunami and how to support more sustainable development of coastal communities. And scientists for Environment Canada are working on helping countries such as India to develop tsunami early warning systems.

Canadians recognize the need for long-term commitment to the region, says Bob Johnston, coordinator of the tsunami disaster response for CIDA, adding that government agencies in affected countries have already worked with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and others to assess reconstruction needs. "CIDA has been in close contact with these organizations and will develop programs accordingly, responding to priorities established by affected governments themselves."

Mary Heather White says that the focus of her vocational program's work has entirely shifted to long-term rehabilitation, with the carpentry, welding, masonry and plumbing it teaches needed badly in the time ahead.

"It's important to remember that local people were the first to respond using the capacity they had," she says. "We're going to continue to build on those skills so that people are better able to recover from this and any future disasters."

Visit the Government of Canada tsunami response Web site at www.gc.ca/tsunami.

Helping hands and hearts

Long-term relationship: Jill Sampson and her community of Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, are helping the people of Kalmunai, one of the hardest-hit districts in Sri Lanka.

Long-term relationship: Jill Sampson and her community of Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, are helping the people of Kalmunai, one of the hardest-hit districts in Sri Lanka.

Photo: courtesy of Jill Sampson

When Jill Sampson, a semi-retired veterinarian from Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, saw images of the tsunami on television, she knew she had to help. Sampson, who runs a small non-governmental organization called Poco a Poco that supports health and education in Guatemala, hooked up with a team from British Columbia's Children's Hospital and headed to Sri Lanka.

Once in Kalmunai, one of the country's hardest hit districts, Sampson put her medical knowledge to work by helping set up a pharmacy. But like everyone involved, she pitched in wherever she could, working alongside members of Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team who were stationed nearby to build temporary shelters for refugees--with some help from back home.

"UNICEF provided some tarps, but we needed tools and other supplies to actually get the shelters in place," she says. Just as she was about to buy $5,000 worth of equipment herself, the town council of Qualicum Beach put up the funds to purchase saws, hammers, wood and twine for the job.

"The entire Qualicum Beach community got behind the project," says Sampson, who stayed in Sri Lanka for three weeks and has been replaced by another member of her community to continue organizing the building of housing in Kalmunai. "We want this to be the start of a long-term relationship."

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Last Updated:
2005-03-23

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