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Tepid response for flood victims

Volunteers battle the floods in eastern Germany. Keystone

The Swiss are proving largely indifferent to the human cost of the devastating floods which have ravaged central Europe.

This content was published on August 19, 2002 - 19:25

So far just SFr250,000 ($166,000) has been raised, compared with SFr74 million when a similar catastrophe hit Switzerland two years ago.

On Monday, Solidarity Chain, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, announced that it had received pledges of SFr250,000 since it launched an appeal for funds last Wednesday.

The sum pales into insignificance compared with previous efforts to raise money for victims of flooding in Switzerland.

Two years ago, for instance, when floods swept across southern Switzerland and northern Italy, SFr6 million was pledged within four hours of an appeal being launched.

The final tally for that disaster was a whopping SFr74 million - the equivalent of SFr10 for every man, woman and child living in Switzerland.

At the time, the Solidarity Chain said the massive donations showed Swiss people's "extraordinary solidarity with the victims of the storms".

Other people's problems

Commenting on the tiny amount pledged so far for flood victims in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic, the Solidarity Chain said SFr250,000 was a reasonable sum.

"Compared to other fund-raising efforts like that following the earthquake in central America, things are proceeding normally," spokeswoman Catherine Baud-Lavigne told swissinfo.

The government's development aid agency and Swiss aid groups have been more forthcoming than the public, pledging SFr1.2 million and SFr500,000 respectively.

"We are responding very quickly to requests of the Czech Republic," Walter Fust, director of the Swiss Development Agency, told swissinfo.

"We have been sending some specialists in logistics, medicines for hospitals, and also water pumps, dehumidifiers and other equipment.

He added that most of the efforts were being directed at the Czech Republic because "they are much more in need of material supplies than our German colleagues who, of course, have a vast reservoir of their own means."

No help for the rich

Observers say the public's reticence to open its purse may also have to do with the perception that Germany is a rich country with enough resources to deal with the catastrophe itself.

Swiss aid to Germany has been largely confined to sandbags to help stem the rising rivers. More than half a million bags are being dispatched to the region around the industrial city of Bitterfeld, where they are being used in dam construction.

For art's sake

As for the priceless works of art in the Baroque city of Dresden and other cities, Fust said Swiss expertise was available to help with their treatment and protection from damage.

He pointed out that reconstruction was another issue. "We will follow what is done within the European Union and certainly the Swiss government will also look into that issue later on," said Fust.

Meanwhile, Swiss business has also failed to demonstrate the generosity it showed two years ago. With the exception of a SFr1.5 million donation from the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, there's been virtually no support from the business community.

Media silence

As for the Swiss media, there have been none of the appeals for action, which have characterised previous disasters - despite almost continuous television footage of the stricken countries.

The floods have killed more than 100 people. The four countries worst affected are Germany, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

The cost of the damage is still largely unknown but is expected to run into tens of billions of dollars.

The bill for repair in Germany alone has been put at €15 billion while in Austria the clean-up bill has been forecast at €2 billion.

Swiss aid agencies including Caritas, Terre des Hommes and the Swiss Red Cross are providing SFr500,000 for Central Europe and the same amount for flood victims in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Donations can be made to Solidarity Chain through the post to account 10-15000-6 or on the Internet (see address below).

by Vincent Landon

In brief

The Solidarity Chain, a fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, has received pledges of just SFr250,000 for victims of European floods.

The figure is far less than has been pledged by the Swiss public in the past.

Two years ago SFr6 million was raised within four hours for flood victims in Italy and southern Switzerland.

The Government says aid groups have been more generous.

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Key facts

- The Pillers stay at the mountain top from May to September
- They produce one or two cheese per day, weighing 25-30 kg each
- They produce 3-4 tons of cheese per year
- They have 35 cows

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