Deiss discovers the drama of Banda Aceh
The Swiss economics minister, Joseph Deiss, has visited the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh to see first-hand the destruction caused by December’s tsunami.
Deiss, who is on a trade promotion trip to Indonesia, also inspected aid projects that Switzerland has initiated.
"Before you have actually seen it you cannot imagine that a catastrophe of such dimensions is possible," Deiss said, visibly shaken by what he found.
More than 125,000 people are reported to have died in Aceh province on the northern island of Sumatra after the tsunami struck.
Deiss, accompanied by his wife Elisabeth, toured the ruined city for an hour.
"It was important to have come," Deiss commented, adding that it was important now to help survivors.
"I was impressed by their will to begin again and take the bull by the horns. Normal life must start again and economic activity too," he said.
A representative of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Banda Aceh, Daniel Beyeler, said that Deiss was also informed about the reconstruction projects that Switzerland is supporting.
In both Indonesia and Sri Lanka, Switzerland has begun so-called Cash for Rehabilitation programmes which offer financial assistance to families who provide shelter to flood victims or who need support rebuilding their homes.
The projects also help those who have had to move away because they were living in high-risk areas.
Deiss also inspected an economic development programme organised in Banda Aceh by Swisscontact, the aid organisation of the Swiss private business sector.
Supported by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, the programme aims to help reconstruction efforts by giving advice andd finanical assistance to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Deiss, who on Sunday visited the Indonesian trade minister, Elka Pangestu in the capital, Jakarta, is due to meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday to sign an accord on reconstruction aid.
Accompanied by a delegation of business leaders, Deiss earlier visited Singapore, where he opened a Swiss business hub.
The new hub is designed to offer assistance to Swiss SMEs looking to establish a presence in southeast Asia.
swissinfo with agencies
Banda Aceh is located at the northern end of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It bore the brunt of the tsunami, which was formed after an underwater earthquake on December 26.
More than 125,000 have been confirmed dead in Aceh province.
Vast areas of Banda Aceh remain a flatland of rubble, mud and stagnant water.
Swisscontact is the aid organisation of the private business sector. It spent SFr37 million ($30.87 million) in 2004. The government financed 80 per cent of this, with the rest coming from business, and international and local partners.
Supported by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Swisscontact has organised a project in Indonesia, with a budget of SFr8 million over three years, to advise and give financial aid to SMEs.
Switzerland has allocated SFr29.5 million for emergency aid and initial reconstruction efforts in Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
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