Eschborn, 9 February 2000 - Germany will play a role in reconstruction in Venezuela. Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, has set aside DM 25 million for this purpose and commissioned the Deutsche Gesellschaft f=FCr Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) - German Technical Cooperation - to restore or construct as many as 170 apartments. Just before Christmas, unrelenting and heavy rainfall in this northernmost country of South America caused dams to burst, with catastrophic flooding as a result. The number of fatalities can still be only roughly estimated, at 5,000 to 30,000.
In Santa Barbara, south-east of the hardest-hit Vargas coastal zone, new buildings are rising and repairs are being made on damaged structures, with GTZ support. As time is pressing, new construction is confined to the simplest designs, with apartment dimensions of around 42m2. As many as 700 persons, most of them cacao farmers and their families, will find new homes here. The collapse of the nearby El Guapo river dam washed away houses, wrecked entire settlements and destroyed broad stretches of the cacao plantations. "The inhabitants of Santa Barbara were evacuated in time, but the floods robbed the families - who had little enough income to start with - of their harvest earnings and all of their possessions. For them, this natural catastrophe means ruin and misery," says construction expert Thomas Schwabe, who has just returned from a fact-finding mission to Venezuela. Yet the people themselves will carry out the work on their own: thanks to prompt German aid, an adequate supply of the building materials normally used in this area is on hand, and local construction experts are supplying technical assistance.
The countries of Central and South America repeatedly fall victim to natural disasters like earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. The last time GTZ was active in this part of the world was in January, 1999, following the earthquake in Colombia. At that time the organization gained diverse experience in disaster management, as it did in Turkey on the reconstruction project following the violent earthquake there.
GTZ operates primarily on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), but it also serves such international organizations as the World Bank and the EU. A staff of more than 11,000 work in 130 developing and transition countries throughout the world to help people improve their living conditions and to conserve the natural resource base on which life depends.