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This New Year is marked by a tragedy of yet unknown extent.
We are all marked by it. We are all affected by it. Everything else seems for a while to be unimportant. We need time to comprehend the human tragedy and suffering which confronts us.
That is why I shall not touch on matters relating to everyday politics tonight.
We heard the news of the terrible natural disaster that had hit South East Asia during the Christmas holiday. The death toll has continued to rise by the hour. All indications are that we are facing a catastrophe that far exceeds all that mankind has experienced in modern time.
At the present moment, the death toll has been put at about 150,000. They are children, women and men. In Indonesia. In Sri Lanka. In India. In Thailand. To mention but a few of the countries that have been severely affected.
It is a catastrophe of such an extreme scope that it is almost impossible to understand. And it hurts to think of it. Every single life is precious. Every life lost has its own fate. Families have been torn apart. Entire village communities have vanished. And we look for comfort in the small encouraging news stories about those who survived in spite of everything.
Our thoughts go to all the victims and their relatives.
Unfortunately, we must say at the same time that there is a very grave risk that the death toll may increase even further in the time ahead, and that even more people will die as a result of diseases and a shortage of clean drinking water.
Therefore, it is important that aid is provided swiftly to the survivors, to the millions of people who have survived the catastrophe in the first instance, but who have so brutally lost their entire basis of life. On the part of the international community, we must do everything in our power to assist the countries in the region in getting the aid out to those in need.
From the outset, the Danish Government has done everything possible to help the local communities that are so seriously affected by the natural disaster. The Government has now decided to raise the amount earmarked for aid and reconstruction assistance in the region to a total of DKK 300 million. Denmark both can and will contribute.
Danish aid will among other things go towards food, medicine and clean water. We hope, by swift and determined action, to help as many as possible to survive the time ahead.
At the same time, we must face the fact that in the region a huge task of reconstruction is now waiting to be undertaken, which the international community must join forces to accomplish. It is the intention of the Government to focus the Danish contribution on re-establishing water supplies as a priority. It is a field of special Danish expertise. And it is an important element in the reconstruction effort.
The Government will monitor the situation closely. If there is a need for allocating more money for aid and reconstruction of the region, we will be prepared to do so.
It is a source of comfort at this difficult time that everywhere in Danish society – among individual citizens, enterprises and organisations – there is a strong will to respond to the appeals launched by relief organisations for the benefit of the victims. Many have volunteered to travel to the region in order to help. Staff members at our Embassies as well as the staff of public authorities in this country have been working day and night. I have taken great comfort in that. Every donation counts. And I wish to express my gratitude for every donation.
The catastrophe has also affected Denmark deeply. I fear that we face a national tragedy of unprecedented scale. At the moment, we know that seven Danes have died. However, another 397 Danes are reported missing. And I seriously fear that many of these may also have lost their lives.
Therefore, our thoughts and deepest sympathy go also to the Danish victims and their bereaved families who have lost a loved one. It is a terrible tragedy that has hit the individual family. We can hardly enter into the feelings of all those who even now are in a state of uncertainty regarding the fate of their relatives, but we know it must be dreadful.
On the part of the Government, we are doing everything to obtain information about those who are reported missing and to bring all Danes swiftly home. We cooperate closely with Sweden and Norway, which are even more severely hit by the catastrophe than we are.
I have talked with my Swedish and Norwegian colleagues. Also Sweden and Norway are stricken with grief. And I have extended my sympathy to the Swedish and Norwegian peoples.
We know also that many Finnish nationals are missing. The Nordic countries have been seriously affected by this catastrophe.
There is no doubt that the time ahead will be a difficult period to live through for very many Danes. I therefore wish to urge that we all do our utmost to help family members, friends and acquaintances who have lost a loved one. We can only get through this difficult time if we join forces and help each other as much as possible.
In order to remember the many Danish victims of the catastrophe, a memorial service will be held tomorrow at Copenhagen Cathedral. The memorial service will begin with two minutes’ silence. I wish therefore to call on everybody to take part in the two minutes’ silence to honour and remember the victims. Furthermore, flags will fly at half-mast from all official buildings tomorrow.
The world has become smaller. Tragedies in far-away regions affect us in ways they have never affected us before. And we experience a sense of community with the local victims in an altogether different way than previously. I wish therefore to take this opportunity to thank everybody who in different ways contributes to solving the many problems caused by the catastrophe.
It is in times like these that we discover our innermost resources.
Happy New Year!