A German national umbrella organization set up to coordinate non-government relief efforts has said where the donations for tsunami victims have gone and shed some light on how reconstruction work is proceeding.
Laughter has returned to the Indian Ocean
Just under a year ago, on Dec. 26, 2004, South Asia was hit by one of the worst natural catastrophes known to mankind. A giant tsunami tidal wave devastated the coastlines of 11 countries in the region, killing almost 200,000 people and leaving millions without shelter, food and drinking water.
The catastrophe, however, also caused a massive international aid effort with a staggering 10 billion euros ($11.7 billion) being donated by governments and private individuals to help rebuild the countries hit by the tsunami.
In Germany alone, 1.1 billion euros have been raised and are currently being spent in South Asia. Some 600 million euros came from private donations -- a massive cash flood which non-governmental German aid organizations admitted was difficult to handle initially.
A Sri Lankan woman turns away from the sight of her wrecked house
That's why the biggest German agencies decided earlier this year to organize themselves with a group called "Germany Helps" in an attempt to guarantee the best possible use of national aid to the tsunami victims.
Helping to rebuild homes
Marianne Rossbach, the head of the organization, said that almost a third of the 600 million euros has since been channeled through the agency and have been earmarked for both short-term relief and long term reconstruction.
Thousands of new homes are still needed
"On immediate disaster relief we spent about 17 million euros," she said. "We provided temporary shelters, safe drinking water and basic appliances such as cooking utensils needed for survival. After the first three months we've begun reconstructing homes and local infrastructure on which we will have spent 60 million euros by the end of the year. The rest of the money has already been earmarked for more housing projects, as well as for schools and medical infrastructure."
The 10 aid agencies organized within "Germany Helps" are especially active in Sri Lanka, and to a lesser degree in India, Indonesia and the Maldives. In Sri Lanka, where about 800,000 people have been left homeless by the tsunami the organization plans to build 1,000 new homes. 117 have already been built this year.
A need for skilled workers
Christoph Ernesti, head of the liaison office in the capital Colombo, said he hopes the pace of construction will accelerate after a number of problems on the ground are overcome. They include unresolved property rights, a lack of building material and a shortage of skilled workers.
Skilled workers are lacking
"We need more than 2,000 workers, especially stone masons, craftsmen like plumbers and electricians," he said. "So we are currently running also vocational programs with the long term aim of training new skilled workers for the country."
Such problems are evident in many disaster areas and are sometimes aggravated by conflicts between local communities and national governments or in the case of Sri Lanka by full-blown ethnic strife, Ernesti said. The security situation there has worsened in recent weeks as clashes between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels have intensified, he said.
But he dismissed fears of mismanagement and misappropriation of donor funds as a result of a lack of cooperation.
"It is going very well now, after nine months," he said. "The government of Sri Lanka has established a special task force and they are doing a very good job. Coordination among the different actors, meaning between the government and the NGOs as well as with the various United Nations organizations is very good now."
German early warning system
A technician works on board of a German ship as a buoy which will be part of a tsunami warning system is seen in the background
Of the 1.1 billion euros in overall German tsunami reconstruction aid, about 500 million are being spent by the German government. The money was pledged by the previous red-green government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and will go into long-term reconstruction projects, including a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean.
Parts of the system, which was developed by a German research institute, were delivered last month and are currently being installed.