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In face of extreme weather, Canadians increasingly turn to crowdfunding for help

A couple in their 70s left homeless after their trailer home burned to the ground in last summer’s Nova Scotia wildfires; an artist in Charlevoix, Que., whose studio was destroyed in floods after a powerful rainstorm; a general store in Tatamagouche, N.S., struggling to pay the bills after post-tropical storm Fiona.

Families and small businesses in Canada like these are increasingly turning to crowdfunding for financial help as they struggle to recover from the damage wrought by floods, wildfires and storms.

Sharon Campbell’s sister raised money on her behalf after heavy rain led to flooding in her Edson, Alta., home last June. Her basement was submerged in almost two metres of water, requiring major repairs that still aren’t finished nearly a year later.

“It was overwhelming,” said Campbell, who works as a school bus driver. “Your home is your safe place, and when something like this happens, it does really shake you to the core.”

Between 2019 and 2023, nearly 10,000 GoFundMe campaigns such as Campbell’s were created to support Canadians in the aftermath of severe weather, raising more than $24 million, according to data provided by the crowdfunding platform.

The data, reviewed by CBC News, shows a 34 per cent year-over-year average increase in the number of such campaigns over a five-year period.

Extreme weather events such as storms, wildfires and floods are becoming more frequent and intense as the climate changes, scientists say.

view of flooded farm
Sharon Campbell watched from her neighbour’s property on higher ground as her home in Edson, Alta., was immersed during flooding last June. Major repairs still aren’t complete. (Submitted by Sharon Campbell)

‘We’re playing catch-up’

Ved Khan, a senior manager with GoFundMe, described the platform as a way to get people in need “additional support right on the ground.”

“It’s more of a grassroots approach, and it’s more of a people-person approach as well,” Khan said.

GoFundMe, a California-based company with international reach, also recoups a three per cent transaction fee on every donation.

The rise in this type of crowdfunding highlights the gaps in how governments and individuals prepare for extreme weather-related events and how people are assisted in their recovery, said Anabela Bonada, a research associate at the University of Waterloo’s Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, in Waterloo, Ont.

“I think we’re playing catch-up in a way,” Bonada said. “We’ve known for a long time that climate change is happening, but we weren’t seeing the effects of climate change in the way that we have in the past five years.”

Last year, severe weather in Canada led to $3.1 billion in insured damage, marking the fourth-worst year on record, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

The record-setting wildfire season, a spring ice storm in Quebec and Ontario, and flooding in Nova Scotia all contributed to that total.

WATCH | Extreme weather makes homes more expensive to insure:

Extreme weather makes Canadian homes harder, more expensive to insure

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Climate change has made extreme weather more common in Canada. And the accompanying disasters such as floods and fires have made home insurance more expensive — if you can get it at all.

The GoFundMe data shows fundraising varies widely by year and province, depending on where and when severe weather struck.

In 2021, for example, the devastating wildfires and floods in Lytton, B.C., resulted in roughly 800 GoFundMe campaigns, raising more than $4.4 million.

Over the last decade, the average cost of weather-related disasters and catastrophic losses each year has risen to the equivalent of up to six per cent of annual GDP growth, according to a recent report by the Canadian Climate Institute.

Ottawa reviewing assistance program

In the event of a large-scale natural disaster, the federal government provides financial assistance to provincial and territorial governments, which then decide how those funds are distributed.

Ottawa is reviewing this program, known as the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, to ensure that it “responds to the new reality of climate change,” said Joanna Kanga, a spokesperson for Minister of Emergency Preparedness Harjit Sajjan.

Maureen McGee, who lost her family home on the outskirts of Halifax in last June’s wildfire, said crowdfunding helped make up for the gaps in her insurance coverage.

She was able to raise $30,000, far beyond her goal of $8,000, which helped pay for food and cleanup, as well as the time her family took off work — far beyond the $500 offered by the provincial government.

“When you’re going through this, life is just turned so upside down,” McGee said.

“Policies are so detailed, and you never think you’re going to need something. You don’t think your entire house is going to be gone. You don’t know what you don’t have until it’s too late.”

woman holding urn
McGee and her husband were able to recover only a few belongings from the family’s burned-down home, including an urn containing her dogs’ ashes. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

For her part, Sharon Campbell was able to raise only about $3,000, far from her goal of $25,000. She did not qualify for insurance because she lives on a flood plain.

“Every little bit helps,” she said. “People stepped up in other ways, lending their hands to come over and help.”

Kanga said the federal government has also announced a national adaptation strategy, with $2 billion earmarked for measures intended to make homes more resilient to severe weather and wildfires.

A national flood insurance program that would help cover homeowners who can’t get insurance is also in the works.

Such measures are a start, the Intact Centre’s Bonada said, but increased government support is needed, with a greater focus on prevention.

“Our most vulnerable population are at highest risk of all these climate perils,” she said.

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