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Fundraisers call on Swiss generosity

Swiss Solidarity is asking the Swiss to dig deep in their pockets on Wednesday

(Keystone)

Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, is holding a fundraising day on Wednesday for the victims of last week's flooding.

Five years ago, Swiss Solidarity collected SFr74 million ($58 million) for those affected by floods in canton Valais, but this year it is hedging its bets.

Early last week, parts of the Bernese Oberland and central Switzerland were severely affected by flooding. Roads, bridges and railway lines were swept away, homes destroyed and six people died after four days of continuous rain.

Private and public insurers estimate total damage will amount to SFr2 billion, including SFr500 million for buildings alone. With insurance companies unlikely to foot the entire bill, donations will be more than ever necessary.

Fundraising days have shown in the past just how generous the Swiss can be when it comes to helping victims of natural catastrophes, especially when Switzerland is affected.

In 2000, floods struck part of canton Valais. The deep impression left by this catastrophe was enough to convince the Swiss to dig deep into their pockets and donate millions of francs to help the victims.

But other campaigns have also been successful.

"We have organised fundraising days to help people affected by avalanches and hurricane Lothar in 1999," said Catherine Baud-Lavigne of Swiss Solidarity. "We also ran a campaign to benefit people suffering from the economic downturn, and we had a good response from donors."

Tsunami

Swiss Solidarity's fundraising record was for the victims of an event that happened abroad. In December, the Swiss donated SFr225 million in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami that devastated a number of nations on the Indian Ocean.

While the huge number of deaths caused by the tidal wave - which some estimates put at around 300,000 – partially explains the success of the campaign, it was also because the Swiss felt close to many of the victims.

"Thailand, Sri Lanka and India are countries the Swiss know well and visit quite often," Baud-Lavigne told swissinfo. "There were also more than 100 Swiss who died in the catastrophe so that played a role as well."

Nobody expects to raise as much money on Wednesday, and donations made after the flooding in Valais will serve as a benchmark. But even that figure seems out of reach for the fundraisers.

"We will probably get less than in 2000," said Baud-Lavigne. "Mainly because many of our previous donors come from the areas that have been affected by the latest flooding and have to worry about themselves."

Baud-Lavigne added that it is also proving difficult to motivate people in French-speaking Switzerland.

"The emotion raised by the flooding quickly disappeared and much of the debate is now centred on preventing more floods in the French-speaking part of the country," she admitted.

"People also think that insurance companies will foot the bill, and don't realise that insurers don't pay for everything."

Swiss generosity

The funds donated after the tsunami are also likely to make people think twice about digging into their pockets.

"Most people have a budget for donations, and so much was given after the tsunami that it is likely they will pledge less this time," said Baud-Lavigne.

The fundraisers aren't ready to write off Swiss generosity. But Baud-Lavigne warns that it is hard to estimate just how much will be pledged.

"Donations so far have proven to be no less than what we've collected in the past for other campaigns."

It is also difficult to say whether Switzerland's stagnant economy will play a role in the fundraising process. "There are often people who have financial problems of their own who insist on pledging something," added Baud-Lavigne.

"You never know how people are going to react to a campaign. We will have to wait until the end of the day to find out if the Swiss can still be generous when it comes to compatriots in need."

swissinfo, Olivier Pauchard

Key facts

Swiss Solidarity is holding a national fundraising day on August 31 for those affected by last week's flooding in central Switzerland and the Bernese Alps.
So far, SFr6.1 million has been pledged by the Swiss.
Pledges can by made via the Swiss Solidarity website or through the post office account 10-15000-6.

end of infobox

In brief

Swiss Solidarity was created in 1946 by three employees of Swiss public radio.

It is the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, the parent company of swissinfo.

It is not a charity, but serves to collects funds which are then distributed to charitable organisations.

end of infobox


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