OTTAWA — Six months after the devastating tsunami that washed away hundreds of Indian Ocean coastal communities, the Canadian government’s aid agency has signed only two contracts for reconstruction projects, worth a total of $9-million.
One is a water-supply project in Indonesia and the other involves training construction workers in Sri Lanka.
But the Canadians who donated millions of dollars to tsunami relief in the expectation of government matching funds should not be concerned by the pace of the effort, Aileen Carroll, the minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency, said yesterday.
“In coming weeks and coming months additional reconstruction projects worth tens of millions of dollars will be put into action,” she said, estimating that the scope of what’s required “will be measured in years and decades.”
A spokesman for the minister, Andrew Graham, said later that 10 reconstruction projects worth $50-million would be approved within a week.
The government’s pledge to help tsunami victims totals about $425-million. About a third of that was spent almost immediately for food, water, medical supplies and other emergency assistance. An estimated 270,000 people died in the disaster.
Canada’s pledge puts it in the first ranks of donor countries, behind only Japan and the United States.
But Japan and many other countries have written their cheques for the full amount of their pledges, according to data compiled by the United Nations.
Red tape may account for some of the delay in Canada.
To qualify for the federal portion, the non-governmental organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross and CARE Canada have to submit proposals and meet CIDA standards.
Jose Garcia-Lozano, the head of tsunami operations for the Canadian Red Cross, said CIDA is speeding up the usual approval process.
Besides, he said, in many areas the preliminary work is so extensive it may be years before building can start.
There is, for example, the complex legal problem of re-establishing a land-title registry system in places where all of the records were destroyed along with all recognizable landmarks. Construction can’t begin until deeds are issued.
And in some countries, Mr. Garcia-Lozano said, there simply aren’t enough skilled construction workers or basic building materials to meet demands. Before the tsunami, Sri Lanka had the capacity to build 4,000 new houses a year. It now needs 100,000.
To date, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has issued 366 permanent resident visas to individuals who were directly affected by the tsunami and who have relatives in Canada.
Most of these people are Sri Lankans, and 278 of the 366 have arrived. They applied to come to Canada before the tsunami struck and have spouses, partners or parents in Canada.
“We wanted to fast-track cases already in the system,” said Cara Prest, a CIC spokeswoman.
Max Berger, a Toronto immigration lawyer with a large Sri Lankan client base, says this number is low.
“I think the promises made by the Immigration Department are simply not matched by the results,” he said. “There may have been some people embellishing their tsunami situation but there were more than 366 genuine cases. I personally have more than a dozen Sri Lankan cases filed before the tsunami that have not been dealt with.”
Max Berger is a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba and was educated at the University of Manitoba and York University. Mr. Berger is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. He has represented immigration clients from all corners of the world and in every area of immigration law.
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