Chancellor Schröder wants to go beyond immediate financial and humanitarian aid to the tsunami-hit nations by proposing bilateral "partnerships." The idea of long-term help has found takers in Germany.
Bonn has set up a partnership with the Cuddalore district in India
Praised for his brisk and generous response to the tsunami disaster that hit Asian countries, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has now ramped up his government's lasting commitment to international relief efforts by suggesting that help should continue long after the tragedy has disappeared from the headlines.
In his annual New Year's address, Schröder proposed that top industrial nations form bilateral "partnerships" with countries hit by the tsunami in southern Asia on Dec. 26, 2004.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder during his New Year address
"I envisage that all the big industrial countries each take responsibility for one nation. Also Germany. Our states for corresponding areas there. Our cities for their cities and our villages for their villages," Schröder said in the speech.
"German schools and children, supported by their parents, could sponsor schools over there," the chancellor said. "This would show that we want to go much further than pledging money -- which is of course important -- and that we understand our responsibility as long term."
"The right idea"
Schröder's proposal has found a positive resonance in Germany, where the disaster has struck a personal chord: at least 60 Germans vacationing in southern Asia have been confirmed dead, while over a 1,000 are still missing.
Most believe that Schröder's latest suggestion might be welcomed because personal donations, which have been pouring in from all corners of Germany ever since the disaster struck, usually increase once people know how their money is being put to use. In addition, forming city "partnerships" has the additional advantage that the help isn't a one-off gesture, but rather a long-term responsibility.
Kurt Beck, premier of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, called the suggestion "the only right idea to organize and structure support in the long term."
A Sri Lankan girl negotiates wreckage at a refugee camp in Pillai
Essen-based energy and chemical group RAG has already agreed to sponsor 100 children in the crisis region and support them financially through school and vocational training until they are ready to fend for themselves.
The proposal has also found takers among the German Association of Cities and Municipalities. Franz-Reinhard Habbel, spokesman for the association, said that several municipalities in Germany had already used their New Year parties to collect donations and that the chancellor's proposal meant that the funds could be used to establish partnerships with individual cities in the crisis regions and help repair damaged schools and streets.
Bonn and Cuddalore
The idea has also sparked interest among German cities.
The former capital of Bonn already has -- with the help of aid group "German Agro Action" -- set up a partnership with the ravaged district of Cuddalore Tamil Nadu, in southeast India.
Women grieve as they pass by boats destroyed by tidal waves at the harbor in Nagappattinam, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu
More than 7,400 people are feared dead in Tamil Nadu alone and the tsunami triggered by a powerful undersea earthquake hit Cuddalore's fishing community particularly hard, flattening the poorly-constructed huts and shacks on the beach.
"We're going to help exactly 1,992 families in the district of Cuddalore, that's about 12,000 people, more than 80 percent of whom are fishermen," said Marion Aberle, spokeswoman for German Agro Action. "We want to help them build a new life. That means long-term help by providing boats, fishing nets, paddles as well as helping them reconstruct their homes."
Creating close bonds
Aberle also stressed that Schröder's proposal would create strong ties between nations.
A woman stares blankly from her makeshift tent in the middle of the road in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province
"Right now the pictures are there, emotions are running high and the people are helping. But catastrophes -- even ones as large as this one -- run the risk of being forgotten," she said. "One simply has to think beyond today and think long-term."
Bärbel Diekmann, mayor of Bonn, said that donations would be collected in Bonn's schools, kindergartens, companies and carnival festivities in the coming months. "I can imagine every Bonn school financing a house in Cuddalore," Diekmann said. "It's very viable because it's so concrete."
Berlin, on the other hand, which has had a partnership with the Indonesian capital of Jakarta since 1994, plans to continue aid efforts there despite the fact that the city wasn't directly affected by the massive tidal waves. But, given the huge death toll in Indonesia alone -- more than 94,000 confirmed dead -- the German capital has decided to focus long-term help there.
Germany, largest donor?
Germany has so far been at the forefront of international relief operations in the tsunami-affected regions, particularly in the worst-hit areas of Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
On Tuesday, reports said Schröder's government, which has so far promised €20 million ($27 million) in aid for the Indian Ocean nations devastated by the tsunami, would raise that amount by €500 million more. That would make it the single-largest donor. The decision is expected to be approved and announced publicly at a special cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
The German army also plans to set up a mobile field hospital in the worst-affected Indonesian province of Aceh while the German Technical Assistance Service (GTZ) is setting up a water treatment plant to provide drinking water for the civilian population. Schröder has also called on rich nations to relieve debt of nations caught up in the tragedy and will propose such a moratorium for Indonesia and Somalia when the Paris Club of creditor nations next meets on Jan. 20.
However, it remains to be seen whether Schröder's latest proposal of bilateral partnerships will find acceptance within the European Union. The chancellor is expected to float the idea during a meeting of EU development ministers on Friday.