Chancellor Schröder's proposal of long-term partnerships between German cities and tsunami-hit areas enjoyed overwhelming resonance at a meeting Wednesday with officials from Germany's 16 states.
The partnership will mean repairing damaged houses and streets
German Chancellor Schröder floated the proposal after the tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004, killing almost 160,000 people including many children and a number of foreign tourists.
"I envisage that all the big industrial countries each take responsibility for one nation -- Germany included," Schröder said in his annual New Year's address earlier this month, adding that states, municipalities and villages should do so with corresponding entities as well.
The chancellor stressed the importance of long-term aid.
"German schools and children, supported by their parents, could sponsor schools over there," Schröder 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."
On Wednesday, the plan found enthusiastic takers at a meeting in Berlin between the chancellor and representatives from Germany's 16 states and local governments. Several cities said they were prepared to strike partnerships with tsunami-affected towns and cities, particularly in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The first are expected to be officially sealed over the next few days.
Schröder said the meeting had finalized conditions "to organize and channel German aid." At the same time the chancellor stressed that aid, however important and effective, "could not afford to be just an emergency measure, but had to be sustainable and long-term."
Residents walk past by debris in the town of Meulaboh, Aceh province, Indonesia.
He added that the plan singled out Sri Lanka and Indonesia because they had borne the brunt of the tidal waves. Schröder also welcomed the idea of sponsorship programs for people orphaned in the disaster.
Before the meeting, Schröder's government agreed on setting up a working group made up of several ministries and representatives of states and local communities. The group would be answerable to the foreign ministry and would handpick projects as well as prepare concrete aid.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who returned from the disaster-hit region on Wednesday, urged countries to take long-term action and not simply pay lip service to the tragedy while it was making headlines.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Phuket, Thailand.
It was "important to make something positive out of this disaster in the future," and that partnerships were a good way to do so, he said at a press conference in Berlin.
"The right idea"
Many believe that Schröder's suggestion has been enthusiastically 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, last week called the suggestion "the only right idea to organize and structure support in the long term."
The proposal 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
Women quench their thirst from distributed safe water packets in Tamil Nadu
The idea has also sparked interest among German cities.
The former capital of Bonn plans -- with the help of aid group "German Agro Action" -- to set up a partnership with the ravaged district of Cuddalore Tamil Nadu, in southeast India.
"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.
"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 last week 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, the German capital has decided to focus long-term help there.