Soft Power

Dungaree diplomats— Berlin


When a flood devastates Uganda or an earthquake strikes Pakistan, Germany’s THW gets some of the first aid workers on the ground. Mostly volunteers, they are part of Germany’s soft power arsenal.

In the dark of a business park in Berlin’s Reinickendorf district, about 40 men and women in blue uniforms are standing in two straight lines, awaiting orders. It is 19.00 on a Monday evening and this is where the local branch of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (Technisches Hilfswerk or THW) meets.

After a short briefing from team leader Sven Wersoly, they head into a large garage where there is a motorboat, five trucks and piles of equipment – wooden planks, cables, bolt-cutters and chainsaws. The workers chatter as they meticulo…

2009: Italy (earthquake)
2008: Burma (Cyclone Nargis), China (earthquake)
2007: Ghana (flood), Uganda (flood)
2006: Lebanon (war, infrastructure, water projects)
2005: USA (Hurricane Katrina, flood), Pakistan (earthquake), Romania (flood), Tsunami region (drinking water, rebuilding)
2004: Tsunami region (drinking water, rebuilding)
2003: Iran (earthquake), France (flood), Algeria (earthquake)

Headquarters: Bonn-Lengsdorf
Subordinate to: Interior Ministry
Employees: around 800 salaried and 80,000 volunteers
Active helpers who can be dispatched: 42,000
Female volunteers: 8,000
Vehicles: more than 8,400
Structure: 668 local chapters, eight regional associations
Budget 2009: €176m

Sumatra mission

THW went to Sumatra after it was struck by an earthquake in September. Three experts headed to the region to assess damage and advise aid organisations and the German embassy on the next steps to rebuild infrastructure and distribute resources. One of them, Peter Görgen, worked with the United Nation’s Disaster Assessment & Coordination team to run initial help and explore the area. Back in Berlin the Foreign Ministry promised €1m in emergency aid. The money will be used for temporary housing, food, water and medicine. “We run all those threads together,” says Görgen.


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