Progress slow on Canadian post-disaster commitments in Pakistan, Haiti

Oct 13 2011 - 12:00am
Lee Berthiaume, Postmedia News

OTTAWA — Five years after Canada promised to build 42 schools to help Pakistan recover from an earthquake that killed tens of thousands, the buildings are still in the planning stages, with no timeline for completion.

The $20-million project was announced originally in October 2006, one year after a magnitude 7.6 earthquake, centred in Kashmir, killed an estimated 73,000 people.

At the time, the Canadian International Development Agency described the project as a major priority.

"Rebuilding the education sector is the government of Pakistan's second-highest priority, after housing, in its reconstruction efforts in the earthquake-affected area," said a CIDA document describing the project.

A total of 42 earthquake-resistant primary and secondary schools — including a girl's college — were to be built.

CIDA documents indicate a U.S.-based company, CDM Constructors Inc., was at one point tapped to design and lead construction of the schools.

And a Pakistani news report from this past February cited Canadian diplomats there as saying CDM was almost finished with the design phase and that the modern buildings would be ready in about three years.

In August, however, CIDA indicated it was searching for a new company to take over the project, including the work of designing the buildings.

CIDA Minister Bev Oda acknowledged on Thursday that progress has stalled.

"We have done some investigating and found that there are many challenges there," she told reporters during a call from Haiti. "Not the least is establishing and getting good bids in to provide the kind of quality school that Canada wants to build there.

"So we had to restart the process and we are in the process of now receiving bids and contracts will be given out and Canada will complete its commitment."

Oda could not say when construction would begin.

"The timeline will be dependent on the contracts," she said.

Earlier this week, Postmedia News reported that a Canadian promise to build an $18-million national police academy in Haiti three years ago also had seen no movement.

The government issued a fresh request for proposals on the police academy project through the Canadian Commercial Corporation last week, which said it was helping CIDA with the contract.