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Swiss say stability returning to tsunami zone

The epicentre of the undersea quake was near Indonesia

(swissinfo.ch)

One year after a tsunami brought destruction to parts of southeast Asia, Swiss experts are still active in the field where they are helping reconstruction efforts.

They report that life is returning to normal in many affected areas. Infrastructure has been restored and the work of reconstructing houses has begun.

Many hotels in the tourist areas of southern Thailand, the Maldives and Sri Lanka have reopened and are attracting visitors from Switzerland in increasing numbers.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) says that following the end of the emergency phase in the crisis area the priority is now on reconstruction.

The Swiss government has made a total of SFr35 million ($27 million) available for reconstruction in the tsunami region between 2004 and 2007.

"One year after the tsunami the situation is beginning to stabilize, even though in many places great efforts are still required," the SDC website reported.

To date, 107 Swiss victims of the tidal wave have been identified, with five counted as missing. Around 226,000 people are believed to have died in the disaster.

Switzerland has played an important role in efforts to identify tsunami victims in Thailand.

Two experts from the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) unit will stay on until the end of February to assist in identifying the remaining 800 bodies.

Rapid response

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told a news conference earlier in December that Switzerland had acted promptly to provide assistance to the affected countries.

"Compared with other countries, Switzerland dealt with the disaster extremely well," she said.

Toni Frisch, head of the Humanitarian Aid Unit at the SDC, told swissinfo he also drew "a very positive assessment" of Switzerland's relief and reconstruction effort.

"We were on the spot very quickly. We have been working very efficiently from the beginning in five countries, and we are still involved in reconstruction and rehabilitation," Frisch commented.

"Ten days after the tsunami we started reconstruction programmes, and that was very positive - not only to show solidarity but also to show that there is a future."

Frisch said he was very satisfied with the way different countries and players had cooperated with one another and coordinated their work amid the chaos and confusion in the early days.

Working closely

He said the government was working very closely with Swiss NGOs and charities on joint programmes, for instance a water purification system in the Indonesian province of Banda Aceh and a "Cash for Reconstruction" programme in Sri Lanka.

In Thailand, the Swiss government is rebuilding several fishing villages in a project co-funded by the Swiss fundraising organisation Swiss Solidarity and other donors. The project is progressing well and is set for completion by mid 2006.

Frisch said that Switzerland's involvement in the tsunami zone could extend beyond 2007, when the current budget runs out.

"Work in Sri Lanka and Indonesia will continue for two years or more," he told swissinfo. "We will assess the situation again at the end of 2006."

swissinfo, Morven McLean

Key facts

Switzerland has made a total of SFr35 million ($27 million) available for reconstruction in the tsunami region between 2004 and 2007.
Swiss public donations through Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, totalled SFr226 million.
The Federal Police Office said the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) unit had deployed 148 specialists, at home and in Thailand, to work on analysing DNA samples.
Two experts will stay in Thailand until the end of February to assist in identification. Around 800 bodies have yet to be identified.

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