At the annual media conference of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) which took place in Berne on 27 January, the new SDC Director-General, Manuel Sager, the deputy-director-general and head of the regional cooperation, Maya Tissafi, as well as the head of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit, Manuel Bessler, gave insight into the comprehensive tasks of development cooperation and a view on the year 2015. In addition to the well-known international hotspots with their high media coverage such as the Ukraine, the Middle East and North Africa, SDC does an immense work in other regions of the world, however mostly unnoticed by the public press. Of course, the misery of refugees and the war in Syria as well as the affected surroundings are also in the SDC’s focus, but special attention has been paid for decades on the long-term and sustainable development cooperation, even if a large effort is done in the crisis areas at the moment.
Director Manuel Sager reiterated in his speech that he picks up the best thread of the SDC. In addition to international conferences which will be held this year (see interview with Manuel Sager) and in which Switzerland will be involved, the SDC focuses also on combating poverty in fragile contexts. This includes a commitment in countries whose government structures have largely collapsed. All over the world we speak of 40 fragile states in which approximately 1.5 billion people live. According to Manuel Sager, Switzerland has increased its resources in fragile countries and regions by 20 percent. “We use our funds to fight the causes of conflicts, to strengthen the civil society, to promote the respect of human rights, good governance and humanitarian aid.” Switzerland as a neutral country without “hidden agenda” could help even in conflict situations when this was no longer possible for other states.
Another area of the SDC’s activity is the Eastern cooperation. This involves the support of the countries of the Western Balkans and the Commonwealth of Independent States in their development towards an enhanced rule of law, democracy, free market economy and fair distribution of wealth. Besides, Switzerland makes an important contribution to the building of a good water supply in these countries; but the SDC was also successful in the field of health care or in the community development,. “But”, says Manuel Sager, “even 25 years after the opening of the Wall there is still a good part of the way to go.”
“Unfortunately there are still 600 million young people all over the world”, as the SDC deputy director the Maya Tissafi says, “who have insufficient basic knowledge in reading, writing and numeracy and can hardly enter into work processes. They, too, urgently need vocational training.” With these words, she draws attention to a problem that should be paid more attention worldwide. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) over 200 million people are unemployed, one third of young adults between 15 and 24 years of age. For decades, the SDC has been committed in the area of youth unemployment (see interview with Maya Tissafi). In several countries it is launching vocational training projects or to expand and to improve them where they already exist on the basis of the SDC’s commitment. The challenges in this area are large and imperative. Switzerland which scores a low unemployment rate among young people with its dual education system that combines theory and practice, and which can offer the youth an excellent education, is predestined here to help and give support. Maya Tissafi draws attention to the fact that the success of this system in our own country does not mean we could just impose it on the target countries. “The concept has to be adapted to the particular context and that is why a close collaboration between the SDC, the partner country, the economy and the young people is crucial.” The successes of the SDC are remarkable. For example in Nepal the SDC succeeded in educating 90,000 young people with the Employment Fund, established in 2007. Various countries such as Albania, Tunisia, Honduras, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso and others benefit like Nepal from the SDC’s great commitment. Overall, the SDC has about 30 vocational training projects with a total budget of 40 million Swiss francs.
The humanitarian aid of Switzerland, also a strong pillar of humanitarian commitment is headed by Ambassador Manuel Bessler. He drew a worrying picture about the situation in the crisis regions. Disasters, whether man-made or of natural origin, have increased steadily in recent years. The number of refugees has reached an extent that has never been the case since the Second World War.
In contrast to the Development Cooperation, humanitarian aid has usually short term character, but it may result in a long-term commitment, as the example of Haiti shows. “Humanitarian Aid Switzerland”, so Ambassador Bessler, “is especially preoccupied with the disaster in Syria which has reached a gigantic dimension” (see interview with Manuel Bessler). Half of the population is on the run and the majority are dependent on humanitarian aid every day. You can see the impact in the entire Middle East. Syria is a collapsing state that is controlled by different powers. “One region is controlled by the government, another region is controlled by the Kurds and a vast region is controlled by the IS.” The reality, as Manuel Bessler says, is devastating and yet he is convinced that humanitarian aid is of irreplaceable importance for the people in this total disaster. But we must also see that in such a situation, it is impossible to solve the political problem with the humanitarian effort. The humanitarian assistance is more urgent than ever, but it must be accompanied by serious political efforts to solve the crisis. There is no doubt. People need to work on a constructive solution, the only way to prevent further hardship. •
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