Americans turn down Swiss hurricane aid

The SDC was responsible for preparing hurricane aid Keystone

The United States authorities have turned down a Swiss offer of aid for the states devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

This content was published on September 15, 2005 - 15:24

The US embassy in Bern said on Thursday that Switzerland's "generous" help was no longer needed, after an offer of assistance was accepted two weeks ago.

Around 50 tons of emergency supplies comprising blankets, tarpaulin, tents and hygiene kits – in addition to eight Swiss experts in logistics, medicine and water – have been ready to go for over a week.

But delivery was delayed, with both the US and Switzerland citing logistical problems.

Daniel Wendell of the US embassy in Bern said America thanked Switzerland for its "generous offer" but would not be able to make use of it.

"The US focused the past ten days on short-term aid and this has now changed because the logistics-management system has begun to work effectively and at maximum capacity," he said.

"The US is now focusing on mid- and long-term needs."

"Very selective"

For the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), which was responsible for preparing the emergency aid, the American decision came as no great surprise.

"At the beginning of last week, Fema [Federal Emergency Management Agency] stopped all the operations, not only ours," said SDC spokesman Andreas Stauffer.

"Every kind of help was put on standby and during the week they finally decided which type of aid they would accept and were very selective about it," Stauffer told swissinfo.

Wendell pointed out that Washington had received offers of aid from 121 countries over the last two weeks.

"The immediate aftermath of the hurricane was a very challenging and fluid situation and those on the ground have been doing the best they can to match needs with resources," said Wendell.

No hard feelings

He added that Switzerland's offer of assistance "reflected the compassion of the Swiss people and the solidarity of the Swiss with America".

"Both countries stand together in times of crisis and I think this is the most important thing to remember."

The SDC says it can live with the American decision to decline the Swiss aid. "This is about the victims, so there's no reason to feel sorry for us," added Stauffer.

This sentiment was echoed by Swiss President Samuel Schmid, who is currently attending a United Nations summit of world leaders in New York.

"I met President Bush on Tuesday and he was well aware of the Swiss offer," Schmid told swissinfo.

"But for the time being the US does not need it. He said he was very grateful for the offer."

Daniel Warner, an American citizen and deputy director at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, says he is not surprised by the American decision.

"The United States has a hard time accepting outside help, be it from other countries or international organisations," he told swissinfo. "You also have to wonder what Switzerland really had to offer."

Warner says Switzerland should reconsider the type of help it can give in the future. "Maybe it doesn't have to be technical aid, it could perhaps be organisational."


In brief

A total of 121 countries offered to help the hurricane aid effort.

Switzerland was to send 50 tons of emergency supplies such as blankets, tarpaulin, tents and hygiene kits.

Eight Swiss experts in logistics, medicine and water were also ready to fly to the US.

After delaying the shipment by over a week, the US finally declined Switzerland's aid.

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