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Prayers and donations for tsunami victims

Lighting a candle for the tsunami flood victims in southeast Asia Keystone

A nationwide fundraising day for tsunami victims is underway in Switzerland on Wednesday as services are held to remember the dead.

This content was published on December 31, 2004 - 10:37

Swiss Solidarity president Remigio Ratti tells swissinfo how the money will be used to help the people affected by the tidal waves which struck southeast Asia on December 26.

Wednesday's day of action coincides with a national day of mourning for the 150,000 disaster victims - including several hundred Swiss nationals.

Swiss President Samuel Schmid, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and Economics Minister Joseph Deiss are due to attend an interdenominational service at Bern cathedral. Flags on public buildings are flying at half mast, and church bells rang out across the country at 12 noon.

Swiss Solidarity is run by the country's public broadcaster and regularly raises funds for crisis-hit regions abroad. It expects the tsunami fundraising campaign to break all records.

Ratti is director of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation’s radio and television channels in Italian-speaking Switzerland and was appointed president of Swiss Solidarity in 2002.

swissinfo: Can people be sure that money donated to Swiss Solidarity really will go to help those whose lives have been destroyed by the quake?

R.R.: Swiss Solidarity is not itself an aid agency, but collects donations and then passes these on to recognised charities such as Caritas. We support organisations which are widely regarded for their professionalism and which are active on the ground [in crisis-hit regions].

So people can rest assured that during times of crisis the money they donate will get to the people who need it.

swissinfo: Do you decide how the money raised is used?

R.R.: When sudden catastrophes strike there is an urgent need to get money to the areas affected. At times like this we can’t spend a week carefully working out what to do with the donations. But of course we do everything possible to ensure that any risk [associated with distributing money during times of emergency] is as small as possible.

Later on checks are carried out in a very thorough and systematic way by third parties. We are flexible enough to adapt our decisions based on the reports we receive from the experts.

swissinfo: Do you know of any cases where money went astray or was misused?

R.R.: No, I have absolutely no knowledge of any such cases.

swissinfo: What percentage of every franc donated is actually spent on projects?

R.R.: This is very much our strong point. Swiss Solidarity is only in charge of collecting and distributing the money and we don’t incur any major administration costs, so no deductions are made from donations.

We operate on the basis that for every franc donated we are able - thanks to interest generated on donations - to pass on slightly more than a franc to the aid organisations and charities. Our own expenses are met by bank interest on funds not yet allocated or by major gifts from donors.

swissinfo: The charities themselves are not able to invest every franc they receive in projects…

R.R.: That’s true, because part of the money they receive has to cover administration costs. [Partner charities may use a maximum of ten per cent of the money they are given by Swiss Solidarity to meet the costs of running projects]. For its part, Swiss Solidarity’s role is only to raise funds and ensure that all money donated falls into the right hands.

swissinfo: In 2000 Swiss Solidarity raised SFr74 million for the Swiss border village of Gondo, which was torn apart by a landslide that claimed 13 lives. But critics point out that not all the money was given to Gondo. How did this happen?

R.R.: In this particular case Gondo was not the only village to be devastated. Other places suffered damage too, not just in Switzerland but also just over the Italian border. All these places received money from us.

Of the SFr74 million raised, around SFr66 million has been invested [in reconstruction projects]. The remainder has been put aside for future catastrophes of a similar nature in mountainous regions of the country.

I should say that the amount of money raised during the Gondo campaign was quite exceptional, especially when you consider that a more recent drive to raise funds for child victims of war only raised SFr11 million.

swissinfo: When pledging donations, do people need to state specifically that they want their money to go to help tidal-wave victims?

R.R.: It’s possible to pledge a donation to Swiss Solidarity without saying where you want the money to be spent. If you do this, the cash will be spent on a variety of projects, including those in Switzerland which are designed to help people in need.

But if somebody specifically states where they want the money to be spent, we are legally obliged to make sure this happens. So if for example a donor makes it clear their pledge is for victims of the 2003 earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam, the money has to be used there.

The same applies to donations made during our Asia quake campaign. At the end of the day it is our responsibility to respect the wishes of each and every donor.

swissinfo-interview

Key facts

Swiss Solidarity had collected nearly SFr45 million ($38.5 million) by Wednesday's fundraising day.
The organisation was founded in 1946 by two radio journalists, and gained charity status in 1983.
It is the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation - swissinfo's parent company - and works in collaboration with 30 charities.
30-40% of its funds normally go to projects in Switzerland.

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