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Canadians reach into pocketbooks to help quake victims

In this photo released by Japanese Red Cross Society, a baby survivor is fed milk by a member of Japanese RC's National Disaster Response Team at the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture (state), Saturday, March 12, 2011, one day after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan.

Toshiharu Kato/AP/Toshiharu Kato/AP

As aid organizations scrambled to gauge Japan's humanitarian needs amid the destruction of Friday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, Canadians were already pitching in with financial help.

Some groups such as The Humanitarian Coalition, a network of Canadian crisis responders, elected not to appeal for donations in the first day after the catastrophe while they assessed how much help a leader in earthquake preparedness like Japan, which also boasts the world's third-largest economy, would need.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday that Canada "stands ready to help and support Japan," but the government has so far stopped short of offering to match Canadians' donations as it did shortly after an earthquake ravaged Haiti last year.

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And yet many Canadians, perhaps conditioned by memories of recent natural disasters, saw no reason to wait. Hours after news of the disaster broke, several aid organizations were already fielding calls, prompting them to start accepting online and text message donations and begin an appeal through various media.

"To be honest, it did catch us by surprise, the generosity that has come forward," said Alexandra Lopoukhine, a spokesperson for CARE Canada, a partner in the Coalition along with Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Québec and Save the Children.

Ms. Lopoukhine believes 24-hour broadcasts of the aftermath of recent natural disasters, including the devastating 2004 tsunami in and around Indonesia, have conditioned many Canadians to have a "gut reaction" to these events.

"We've suddenly become attuned to the word 'tsunami', meaning 'this is huge, let's find ways to help even before we find out what the impact is,' " she said.

As of Sunday afternoon, the Canadian Red Cross had collected $1-million in donations from Canadians toward relief efforts in Japan. That's about a third of what it collected in the first 48 hours of the crisis in Haiti, which was unprepared to use the funds efficiently. However, a network of two million registered volunteers already exists in Japan, which allowed the Red Cross to quickly mobilize 60 teams of doctors, nurses and first responders.

"Right now we're seeing a strong response from the community," said Katie Kallio, a public affairs adviser with the Canadian Red Cross.

Doctors Without Borders has a team of 10 people assessing Japan's medical needs and conducting mobile clinics, but spokesman Gregory Vandendaelen said the organization has not yet begun accepting targeted donations. For the time being, it can rely on an emergency fund set aside for any disaster, which Canadians donate to year round.

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Mr. Vandendaelen said though the 2004 tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people, most survivors proved relatively healthy and medical needs were surprisingly low.

"As far as we know, medical needs [in Japan]are not really that high so far," he said.

But Mikiko Dotsu, the co-ordinator of the Doctors Without Borders team, cautioned that water and electricity are still scarce in some areas, and "it appears that medical needs are increasing in evacuation centres."

Ms. Lopoukhine hopes Canadians will continue their generosity in the coming weeks, certain that "the needs will start to show themselves."

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About the Author
Banking Reporter

James Bradshaw is banking reporter for the Report on Business. He covered media from 2014 to 2016, and higher education from 2010 to 2014. Prior to that, he worked as a cultural reporter for Globe Arts, and has written for both the Toronto section and the editorial page. More

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