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Hurricane aid remains in Switzerland

Switzerland is still having problems getting aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina

(Keystone)

Switzerland is still waiting for the United States to give it the go-ahead to start sending aid to states on the Gulf of Mexico devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Bern and Washington blame logistical problems, but Daniel Warner, an American at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, blames US bureaucracy.

The 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 since Tuesday.

"We're still waiting for approval from the US authorities," Andreas Stauffer, a spokesman for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), told swissinfo.

"There has been a standby situation that has been ordered by Fema, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. After that the European countries were allowed, according to a specific list, to deliver materials and specialists."

Huge amounts

Stauffer explained that the amounts are huge, for instance Germany was sending a 90-man crew to America, and that the US authorities are handling all these transports according to size.

"I think if you have to deal with such huge logistical problems, you are going to have [to set] your priorities," he says.

Stauffer denies the Swiss offer is too small. "It is in a size that we can handle and ensure it will be delivered on time and to the right place."

However, he says one of the problems has been a lack of certainty on the final destination of the Swiss aid in the US. "As long as the US authorities could not assure the logistics on their side, it does not make any sense to deliver the material."

Stauffer believes there is one piece of good news from the US authorities. "They said they are only ordering goods that they can immediately transport to the place where they are needed."

"They are not going to build up any stock, and that goes along with our philosophy."

Bad organisation

However Daniel Warner, an American citizen and deputy director at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, is far more critical of the US authorities' reaction to the disaster.

"The Americans are very badly organised," he told swissinfo. "One reason for that is that in Mike Brown [head of Fema], President Bush has chosen a man without the necessary experience for top-level disaster control. And the other top-ranking staff are equally inexperienced."

Warner added that terrorism was also being brought up in the criticism. "There is absolutely no structure for dealing with large-scale catastrophes. The National Guard are in Iraq and are not available – like a large quantity of equipment."

"The shocking thing, however, is that the days are going by but still no one is responsible."

Warner said the various authorities are mired in total confusion, everything is blocked and this was having fatal consequences. "In the meantime people are dying from hunger and disease because no one is capable of organising help and solving problems."

While Warner highlights the lack of focus in the organisation of the disaster relief, for him other parts of the catastrophe are black and white. "It is clear from the pictures on television that whites were able to flee. The blacks stayed behind."

"There are certainly racist elements in this catastrophe," he commented.

swissinfo

In brief

Some 60 countries (23 European) have offered to help the hurricane aid effort.

Switzerland is sending 50 tons of emergency supplies such as blankets, tarpaulin, tents and hygiene kits.

Eight Swiss experts in logistics, medicine and water are also set to fly to the US.

More than a million people have been driven from their homes and the number of dead continues to rise.

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