The Czech government on Monday approved a total 20 million crowns in humanitarian aid for earthquake-stricken Haiti. Of that amount, five million crowns were released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week; the remainder will come from the government’s reserve fund and from the budget of the Ministry of Defence. The Foreign Affairs Ministry has said the money will be provided via humanitarian organisations with a presence in the Caribbean nation, as the Czech Republic does not have an embassy there. Meanwhile, Czech charity organisations say they have managed to collect more than 15 million in funds from donors for immediate aid and procuring vital resources for victims.
The Minister of Defence, Martin Barták, is submitting a proposal to the government to increase the number of Czech troops in Afghanistan by 100. The proposal comes in response to a request from US President Barack Obama and the NATO alliance. The new force would be involved in training the Afghan police and will be operating a Czech artillery radar that has not yet been used abroad. Foreign Minister Jan Kohout has said he will support the proposal, adding that the Czech Republic should meet the United States’ request. Mr Barták also said that the proposal would have to be discussed on the political stage, as the deployment of Czech troops abroad consistently provokes sharp debate in Parliament. There are currently 535 Czech soldiers on duty in Afghanistan.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Kohout says he will not be attending the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver due to the visa restrictions Canada imposed on Czech citizens last year. Speaking to Czech Television on Sunday, Mr Kohout stressed that the ministry was by no means unsupportive of the games, but that he had no reason to visit Canada as a minister – having been assured there would not be an opportunity for official meetings – and that as a private citizen it was unacceptable that he would apply for a visa. Czech President Václav Klaus has also said he will not be attending the Olympics due to the visa restrictions.
New data from the European statistical office, Eurostat, shows the Czech Republic has the lowest poverty rate in the European Union. The data, which relates to the year 2008, gives the Czech Republic a poverty rate of 9% while the European average is 17%. Eurostat shows the demographic group with the largest poverty rate in the country to be people under the age of 17 at 13%. The country topping the list was Latvia, where every fourth citizen is reported to be living under the poverty line.
A rise in temperatures in Bohemia following more snowfall at the weekend is causing problems with snow and ice falling from rooftops. Firemen, particularly in Prague and Plzeň, were being called out throughout Monday to clear snow and icicles from parapets. Six people were treated for injuries after being struck by falling sheets of snow, and police have received dozens of reports of damage to cars parked by the waysides. In related news, a number of town halls around the country say they are receiving large numbers of demands for compensation from people injured on snowy city pavements, which the municipal authorities are obliged to maintain.
The non-governmental organisation Ecological Legal Service has announced it will be filing a lawsuit against the mammoth Czech energy company ČEZ to force it to release documentation regarding the reconstruction of the Prunéřov power plant. The NGO claims that ČEZ has so far refused to provide the data, which was requested under law for the freedom of information. This request was made pursuant to an earlier ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court that ČEZ is a public institution and thus subject to the freedom of information law. ČEZ is looking to modernise the Prunéřov plant and activists are incensed that the company refuses to lower its CO2 emissions, which are among the highest in Europe.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer left today’s meeting of the government saying the budget cut on state maternity allowances will likely be lifted. Parliamentarians voted at the end of September to temporarily strike the allowances by one-fifth as part of an austerity package; the Social Democrats, Communists, and Christian Democrats are now in favour of reinstating the full amount. That majority will nonetheless likely have to pass the reinstatement twice, as President Klaus has promised to veto any bill increasing the budget deficit. Restoring the full amount of maternal allowances would increase the budget by roughly 1.5 billion crowns.
The Rail Safety Inspection Office reports that rail-related deaths in 2009 amounted to 211. That number is 19 less than in the previous year. The office pointed out however that the statistic was preliminary and subject to the medical conditions of the injured parties. 246 people were hit by trains in 2009 and 174 of them died. Another 37 lost their lives in accidents at railroad crossings and 87 were injured, the lowest number since 2003.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said on Sunday that Czech aid for
earthquake struck Haiti should be long term. He said aid should continue to
flow in the coming weeks, months and years once the media images have
disappeared. The government is due to meet Monday to discuss a further 10
million crowns in emergency aid from the Foreign Ministry emergencies
budget. So far the ministry has released 5 million crowns in emergency aid
aimed at restoring supplies of drinking water.
Minister of Defence Martin Barták said it was prepared to send Czech field hospitals and specialists and even military police to help keep order in the country if necessary. Media reports have said heavily armed gangs have returned to the capital Port-au-Prince. Mr Barták said discussions with aid coordinators are continuing over what other aid could be sent.
Local estimates say that up to 200,000 people died and up to 300,000 have been left homeless by the quake at the start of the week.