Germany extensively boosts tsunami funds as a result of the shared suffering'

07. Januar 2005 F.A.Z. Weekly. During his six years in office, German Chancellor Gerhard Schrder has watched the government's budget suffer, robbed of much-needed resources by the country's high level of unemployment.

But since the tsunamis struck southern Asia on Dec. 26, Schrder has put aside those financial worries for the moment and directed his focus on another priority. In shared suffering, we recognize the indivisibility of the world, he said on Wednesday.

The chancellor made the comment as he announced that his financially stretched government would boost its contribution to the international aid effort - from 20 million ($26.3 million) in immediate help to 500 million in long-term assistance.

The government's donations were just one part of national outpouring of contributions to help the southern Asian region, where 150,000 were killed and hundreds of thousands of other people were displaced.

We have never seen anything like this, said Dietrich Garlich, the managing director of UNICEF Deutschland, the German branch of the U.N. agency that helps children.

Germans have donated around 150 million to the charities that have rushed to help the victims.

And the money continues to come in, thanks in part to a series of nationally televised fund-raising galas.

It has already become Germany's biggest fund-raising effort for people who live abroad, said Burkhard Wilke, managing director of the German Central Institute for Social Questions. The previous record was set in 1999, when Germans contributed DM110 million ($74 million today) on behalf of people living in the war-torn area of Kosovo.

Even though the catastrophe happened abroad, the aftermath of the killer waves represents a domestic disaster as well. At least 60 Germans have been officially declared dead, including 46 in Thailand. About 300 were injured. And many more are missing. Immediately after the waves hit, officials said more than 1,000 were missing. But, they reduced the total to below that level this week.

On Thursday, Klaus Scharioth, state secretary in the German Foreign Ministry, said 751 Germans had been registered as missing with police departments around the country. But Scharioth cautioned people against seeing this figure as final. I fear that it will remain somewhere below 1,000.

The German government and citizens have rushed to supply non-financial aid as well. Here is a breakdown of their goals:

Water: A total of 97 specialists have fanned out across the southern Asian region to set water-preparation facilities, repair wells and fix infrastructure.

Medical assistance: The German military is setting up a field hospital in Aceh, a region in Indonesia hit hard by the waves. Twenty-nine German doctors have been assigned to the area. The supply ship Berlin is also heading to the regional capital, Banda Aceh. It is equipped with two operating rooms, 45 beds for critically injured patients and two helicopters that can be used for evacuations. The ship is expected to arrive sometime next week. It originally was assigned to the Gulf of Oman as part of the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign called Enduring Freedom.

Partnerships: Acting on a suggestion made by Schrder, a number of German cities have said they would form long-term partnerships with Asian communities devastated by the tidal waves. Mayor Dieter Kiessling had one explanation why his community, the eastern German town of Reichenbach, wanted to form a partnership with a community in Asia: This will give our help a face.

In Berlin, the leader of Germany's largest opposition parliamentary group promised to help Schrder work out the budget details of his 500 million package. We as members of the opposition will make a positive contribution to this reconstruction work and the necessary parliamentary budgetary discussions, said Angela Merkel, the chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union.

Schrder said the money would not be provided immediately because officials needed to decide which projects should be supported. But the proposal raised two questions in light of the government's heavily strained budget: How would Schrder finance the contribution? And how would officials break down the contribution?

He said that this year's contribution would come from savings in the budget and that it would become a regular line item in years ahead. The contribution also could include Germany's donation to the European Union's effort and debt relief to countries like Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

At least one member of Merkel's party did not like Schrder's plan, saying it would amount to 500 million in new government borrowing. This is a questionable budgetary blueprint, Dietrich Austermann told the newspaper Stuttgarter Nachrichten.