German Chancellor Schröder pledged €500 million ($661 million) towards reconstruction efforts in the tsunami-affected regions of South Asia on Wednesday, making Germany one of the single largest donors so far.
The decision was announced after a meeting of the German cabinet
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder confirmed on Wednesday that Berlin would contribute €500 million in aid to the tsunami-ravaged Indian Ocean region.
This tops the €20 million the governing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens had already promised for humanitarian aid in South Asia. Angela Merkel, Germany's opposition leader and head of the Christian Democratic Union, said she completely supported the decision to increase the aid.
Others also welcomed the move, but said the German government should not neglect its long-term goals as a result.
"Germany mustn’t lose sight of the goal to cut extreme poverty and hunger around the world in half by 2015," Jürgen Lieser of the Development Policy Association of German Non-Governmental Organizations (VENRO) told DW-WORLD.
The new aid figure, which amounts to about two percent of the German budget in a year, takes Germany to the top of the list of international donors who have rushed to provide millions of funds to the Asian countries hit by the tsunami on Dec. 26. Germany is followed by Japan (€367 million) and the US (€257 million).
"Not credit, but money"
Addressing a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday after a special cabinet meeting, Chancellor Schröder said that the funds would be released within a time frame of not less than three years and not more than five.
An Acehnese man carries his bicycle through the rubble in the devastated shopping district of Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia
"This period is linked to the capacity to absorb" the aid in the region, where tidal waves lashed almost a dozen countries killing around 150,000 people, the chancellor said. He stressed the importance of providing unbureacratic and speedy aid to the devastated regions.
But Schröder was reluctant to provide details about what form the massive package earmarked by Germany would take. He did suggest that it could include debt reduction and measures taken with members of the European Union and the Group of Seven major powers.
"We will be able to discuss the details, once we establish what the European Union, the Paris Club (of creditor nations) and the G7 countries have agreed on," he said.
But when pressed by reporters, he replied: "Germany is giving €500 million. This is not credit, it is money."
Schröder said the move is "what the German public expects" and also denied that it was a political ploy aimed at winning support for his country's bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
"We would do the same even if there no discussions on reform at the Security Council," Schröder said. "They have nothing to do with each other."
The chancellor added that the aid would be used to finance concrete projects in the affected regions with emphasis on providing clean drinking water, supporting the health system and reconstructing schools.
Chancellor hails Germans' generosity
Before making the aid announcement, which came just after the European Union fell silent for three minutes out of respect to the victims, he thanked the public for donating on an unprecedented scale.
"The whole German nation stands in solidarity with the countries of the region," he said. "This help will continue," he added, listing work carried out by the military and the army of volunteers who have been helping in Germany and the affected regions.
German survivors of the tsunami disaster arrive at Frankfurt airport
With 60 Germans already confirmed dead and more than 1,000 missing in the massive sea surges, the disaster has struck a chord with the public here and individual donations totalling around €170 million have been made.
Speaking at the same press conference, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he hoped to leave late on Friday for Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia and to report back to the German government next Wednesday.