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Germany Prepared to Help the US

DW staff (tt)September 1, 2005

While US emergency teams are working around the clock in the mostly submerged city of New Orleans, the German government, although highly critical of US environmental policies, is offering its help.

Germany has shown sympathy for the regions affected by KatrinaImage: AP

The German government is "ready to offer its help and support toward controlling this appalling natural catastrophe and remedying its consequences," said Fischer.

"We must show solidarity for those affected," he added

The German Foreign Ministry has set up a 24-hour hotline in an attempt to coordinate aid efforts (+49-30-5000-2000). The German embassy in Washington, D.C. is also constantly updating the information on its Web site.

Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Thursday there were no German casualties in the areas affected by hurricane Katrina. The German embassy in Washington and German consulates in Houston and Atlanta are closely cooperating with US authorities on helping German citizens and looking for the missing persons.

Lengthy recovery

US President George W. Bush said Wednesday it would take years to recover from the deadly ravages of hurricane Katrina, which he branded one of the worst national disasters in US history.

George Bush Hurrikan Katrina
President Bush looking out the window of Air Force OneImage: AP

Bush made the comments after cutting short his vacation in Texas and flying over the stricken area in Air Force One before returning to Washington to oversee the massive rescue and relief effort.

"We're dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history," he told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

"This recovery will take years," he said, pledging the full support of the US government in rescuing and giving assistance to the tens of thousands people made homeless by the storm.

The president laid down three priorities: saving lives and evacuating endangered survivors, providing adequate food, water and shelter for dislocated people and launching a comprehensive recovery effort.

Bush's environmental policy under attack

Bundesumweltminister Jürgen Trittin
Jürgen Trittin, Germany's minister of the environment, is not known for his diplomatic skillsImage: AP

German Enviroment Minister Jürgen Trittin, in an editorial published in the daily Frankfurter Rundschau on Tuesday, sharply criticizing President Bush for "closing his eyes" to environmental problems and the dangers of global warming. American readers responded in anger to the chastising editorial, which offered no words of sympathy for the United States, but the minister has remained unapologetic.

Trittin's spokesman, Michael Schrören, said on Wednesday that "Trittin's comments were true and he wrote what he meant."

Trittin, however, is not the only critic of the US environmental policy in Germany. Reinhard Bütikofer, who heads the German Green party, of which Foreign Minister is also a member, called Bush an "eco-reactionary."

"Bush conducts his environmental policy from the perspective of oil and nuclear lobby," said Bütikofer.

interview 06.11.2004 karsten voigt
Karsten Voigt of the German foreign ministryImage: DW-TV

Karsten Voigt, foreign ministry coordinator for German-US cooperation, tried to strike a balance between being critical of US policies and showing sympathy for the United States by saying that Tritten's comments were accurate but badly timed.

"One should be more diplomatic than Mr. Trittin was, but there is general consensus in Germany that climate change is a major issue," Voigt said.

Too rich to ask for help?

Germans donated in record numbers in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami eight months ago. But the situation is different today: the US government has made no call for international aid, and German charity organizations have so far not pledged financial aid for the hurricane-affected regions.

"We are at the moment planning no call for help," said Fredrik Barkenhammar of the German Red Cross.

According to Barkenhammar, the American Red Cross is financially very well positioned and has, therefore, not asked for outside help. Should the German Red Cross receive any public or private donations for the American disaster relief, the money will be transferred to the US Red Cross, he said.

Hurrikan Katrina, eine Familie wird aus den Fluten gerettet
freies bildformatImage: AP

Not exactly a catastrophe?

Damage caused by hurricane Katrina will certainly have international consequences, according to Swiss Re, the world's second largest insurance company. The firm said Wednesday that Katrina would cost the insurance industry alone about $20 billion (16.2 billion euros).

Many believe, however, that the scope of the disaster is such that the US government, which has one of the most sophisticated crisis management systems in the world at its disposal, should be able to respond to it adequately.

"Catastrophe means that a society cannot cope with a situation," said Achim Reinke, spokesperson for the Catholic aid organization Caritas.

"We need to stay balanced," Reinke said, pointing out that there are other crisis regions in the world, like Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, that shouldn't be forgotten.