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Federal disaster fund needs to prioritize preparation over recovery, climate expert says

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As people along the storm-battered East Coast continues to grapple with the aftermath left by post-tropical storm Fiona nearly three weeks ago, Canadians are reminded of the extreme weather events that are only expected to get worse in the future.

In recent years, Fiona is just one of many natural disasters that have impacted Canadians’ lives and finances. This year, the post-Fiona recovery effort is estimated to cost between $300 million and $700 million in insured losses for Atlantic Canada.

While the federal government’s Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF) was made to aid in these catastrophes, one climate expert says additional resources are needed to ensure the right preparation to avoid further damage to vulnerable communities.

Jason Thistlethwaite, professor of climate change and risk mitigation at the University of Waterloo, says the DMAF serves a great purpose, but there is room for improvement.

“Most of our funding and resources goes to recovering from disasters rather than preparing for them,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday. “If we put more resources into the preparation, it will mean less resources coming into the recovery.”

The DMAF was created in 2018 with the federal government committing $2 billion over the next decade to invest in infrastructure projects to help communities most impacted by the effects of climate change.

The fund was later increased by $1.3 billion in 2021, however recent reports say the half of the fund has already been used four years into its inception. A spokesperson for Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc's office said $2.2 billion from the fund has been allocated for 72 "large-scale infrastructure projects that will help protect communities across the country from the threats of climate change, such as natural disasters like floods and wildfires.”

Thistlethwaite says one of the main issues many smaller communities face in paying for recovery efforts is their lack of resources and funds to begin with, in comparison to larger governments and provinces that get more funding.

“The federal government caps its contribution at about 40 per cent, meaning provinces and municipalities have to come up with the other 60 per cent; that's an incredible financial burden on communities that are just trying to save up their money to fix the potholes, parks or snow clearings,” he said.

Additionally, Thistlethwaite says focusing on the small wins like limiting cities’ building new properties on high-risk land will aid in avoiding larger catastrophes in the future.

“If we can't get these small things right and have a good preparation program that gives communities resources they need to reduce ourselves from climate change risk, we're not going to get the big things right in the long run,” he said.  

Correction

This story was corrected to state the DMAF fund has allocated $2.2 billion to fund large-scale infrastructure projects.

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