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Flood Relief On Its Way

The German Cabinet has approved the draft law for helping the country's flood victims. The legislation will enable rapid and direct financial assistance totalling some 10 billion euro ($9.75 billion).

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Cleaning up the mess in Pirna

Those regions affected by the disastrous flooding in eastern Germany can rely on extensive immediate aid thanks to the so-called "flood victims support law". Late Monday, the German Cabinet passed the draft law, which will fund the financial and reconstruction measures put together by the Berlin government.

The relief package for the flood damages totals around 10 billion euro ($9.75 billion). The largest chunk results from postponing of the next phase of a scheduled tax reform by one year to 2004. This will mobilize around 6.9 billion euro ($6.7 billion) in tax revenues, the government said.

Other financial contributions include 1.2 billion euro ($1.17 billion) by the European Union, as well as 1 billion euro ($976 million) resulting from a reshuffling in the federal transport ministry's budget.

The law is expected to be passed by the upper and lower houses of parliament by mid-September. The conservative opposition, CDU/CSU alliance, said they will approve the law despite its criticism of the postponement of the government's tax reform.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said in a statement that he felt people in Germany understood the reform delay, as it evenly distributed the burden of providing financial assistance for flood-stricken regions and victims.

A bitter setback for the East

After Schröder came into power in 1998, he gave the project "Aufbau Ost" - the rebuilding of eastern Germany - top priority. But now, the floods have destroyed large parts of these measures. The reconstruction effort in the flood-stricken areas of eastern Germany will have to start all over again, Schröder said.

The extent of the flood damages are still unclear. But federal transport minister Kurt Bodewig said he expects approximate figures by the end of the week. In an interview with German television ARD, Bodewig said it would then be decided in which order reconstruction would start. According to Bodewig, public infrastructure would take priority, given the enormous damage to rail and road systems, particularly in Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

In Saxony alone, which was hit hardest by the floods and which will receive the most aid, the state government estimates damages of some 15 billion euro ($14.6 billion). Saxony's agriculture minister Steffen Flath said the damages for the state's farmers would run up to 200 million euro ($195 million). He said 1,900 facilities with some 5,000 employees were affected.

A wave of public support

An overwhelming surge of public spirit has been triggered by the flood crisis. Charities have collected millions in private donations and people are also helping each other locally.

Schröder noted that "the sense of solidarity in our society has grown enormously".

But Germany's flood victims have also evoked the sympathy of people around the world. There has been a large measure of help from European partner countries, Russia, the United States, and even Africa and Asia.

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