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Swiss show solidarity with disaster-hit Asia

(Keystone)

A national fund-raising day has been held in Switzerland to help victims of a typhoon in the Philippines and earthquakes in Indonesia.

The money will go to Swiss humanitarian organisations on the ground that have carried out emergency relief and are now helping people back on their feet. The Swiss government has also been sending aid and rescue expertise.

Volunteers at Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch's parent body, manned the phones all day on Friday to help raise funds for Asia.

Indonesia and the Philippines were hit by two separate disasters in the space of a few days. At the end of September tropical storm Ketsana swept across the Philippines with wind speeds of more than 100 kilometres per hour. A week later typhoon Parma hit its shores.

The resulting floods have been described as the worst in the country for 40 years. On Friday officials said that landslides in the rain-soaked mountains of the north had killed more than 150 people. Around 500,000 people are living in emergency shelters.

Swiss Interchurch Aid, which is one of the non-governmental organisations which will benefit from the appeal, has sent SFr250,000 ($243,000) in emergency aid to the Philippines. It has experts there on the spot and has been working with local partner organisations to help around 20,000 people.

In terms of official aid, Switzerland has also sent experts to the Philippines and contributed SFr450,000 to the flood victims.

Survival

"People have lost all their possessions and they are now trying to re-establish their homes and lives and to get the food they need for their survival," Peter Merz, who is coordinating humanitarian aid at the NGO, told swissinfo.ch.

"We are supporting them by giving them food packages with food and non-food items and by helping them to restore their livelihoods and small businesses," he added.

Swiss Interchurch Aid also has people in Indonesia which was hit by two strong earthquakes in succession – 7.6 and 6.8 on the Ritcher scale - on September 30 and October 1. The quake mostly affected the region around the bustling town of Padang on the island of Sumatra.

Its experts, many of whom worked on rehabilitation projects in Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami, reported back early on Friday that the damage situation was different depending on the location.

The NGO is concentrating on helping rural areas which have received less help so far than Padang, said Merz.

Many missing

Up to 800 people were killed in the quakes and many are still estimated to be missing under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

The Swiss foreign ministry's Swiss Rescue specialists arrived in Padang on October 2 to help search for the missing and assess the humanitarian needs of the survivors.

The team of 115 people and 18 dogs came back to Switzerland on Wednesday this week. Team leader Beat von Däniken said that they had expected more damage. Many affected sites were public buildings that had been empty at the time of the disaster.

But it had been more dramatic for some places, like hotels, which was where they focused their efforts.

"We found six bodies and handed them over to the authorities. We didn't find anybody alive under the rubble," he said.

Solidarity

In all, four people from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit remain on site to help with the transition phase from emergency relief to aid for reconstruction. They are providing assistance to people in rural areas without shelter.

"We think it's a good thing for them not to go into camps but that they remain close to their houses," explained von Däniken.

"They can't go inside because they [the houses] are too dangerous or damaged, but we have to help them survive in these conditions by, for example, giving plastic sheeting, sanitations kits and petroleum lamps." Around 2,000 families are being helped.

The chief of staff of humanitarian aid said that showing solidarity was important and was an essential and visible cornerstone of the SDC's work all over the world. It had both a material and psychological aspect, as witnessed in Padang, he added.

"[It's that] people think that somebody from outside cares as well and that the authorities also have the impression that they are not forgotten and that the world is attentive to what happens in the region," said von Däniken.

Isobel Leybold-Johnson, swissinfo.ch

Appeal

Swiss Solidarity has launched an appeal for donations to help the victims of the Sumatra earthquake and of the typhoon which swept through the Philippines and other Asian countries.

This appeal is being carried out in close cooperation with its partner relief organisations – Caritas, Swiss Interchurch Aid, Terre des homes, Children's Aid, Doctors Without Borders Switzerland, Swiss Red Cross, Handicap International, Swiss Labour Assistance, ADRA Adventist Development and Relief Agency and Medair – who have already begun providing emergency aid on the ground.

Peter Merz from Swiss Interchurch Aid said that in addition to the fund-raising, such appeals helped to raise awareness in Switzerland of the problems facing these disaster-hit regions.

The account number is CP 10-15 000-6, and gifts should be marked "Asia".

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