Alleviating and preventing human suffering

Refugees walking along rail tracks in the rain.
In 2015 over 700,000 people fled their homes using the Western Balkans route to reach central and northern Europe. ©SDC

In 2015, the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide topped 60 million for the second time since the Second World War. Switzerland works on the ground to deliver emergency aid, promote peace and create long-term prospects for local communities.

Armed conflicts, violations of human rights, infringements of international humanitarian law, and worsening living conditions are forcing millions of women, men and children into exile. Many are Syrians, of whom 6.5 million are internally displaced and 4.3 million have sought refuge in other countries. Despite their protracted and considerable efforts, reception countries now find themselves at the limits of their absorption capacity. With no prospects in sight, Syrian and Iraqi refugees have therefore set themselves a new goal: reaching Europe. In summer 2015, hundreds of thousands took the Balkans route to reach European Union countries, often risking their lives in the process.

Forgotten crises

While the Syrian crisis and its repercussions were dominating the headlines in Europe, many stories of human suffering around the world went untold. In South Sudan, fighting has left 2.8 million people, i.e. a quarter of the population, facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity, and the number of people dependent on humanitarian aid is now in excess of 6.1 million. The situation is also critical in the Central African Republic, where thousands of civilians are suffering as the result of the religiously motivated conflict that has rocked the country since 2013. In Iraq, 10 million people, one in every three inhabitants, are dependent on humanitarian aid. In Yemen, the figure is 21 million. Humanitarian needs in Sudan and the occupied Palestinian territory have reached worrying levels.

Dossier: Swiss involvement on behalf of victims of the Syrian crisis

Impact of natural disasters

2015 was dominated by major natural disasters, including the violent earthquake on 25 April which devastated large swathes of Nepal. Myanmar was hit by severe flooding in the summer. Landslides, cyclones, drought and other weather phenomena disrupted the daily lives of millions of people in other countries.

Acting fast saves lives, press release, 18 December 2015

Closing the gap between needs and resources

In 2015, humanitarian organisations sought nearly USD 20 billion to fund vital assistance for more than 70 million people worldwide. Despite the high degree of urgency involved, aid programmes remain considerably underfunded: the USD 9.7 billion dollars pledged by donors constitute slightly less than 49% of the funding required. One possible reason for this shortfall is that the protracted nature of these crises has led to a certain degree of donor fatigue.

Extra resources for crisis-hit regions

In light of these events, the Federal Council decided, on 18 September 2015, to allocate an additional CHF 70 million to the 2015-16 humanitarian aid budget for crisis-hit Syria, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. In 2015, CHF 30 million was used to fund the aid operations of the following three humanitarian organisations in Syria and Iraq:

the International Committee of the Red Cross 

the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 

the World Food Programme

As well as supporting its multilateral partners and aid organisations, Switzerland also carries out its own projects in the region. In Lebanon and Jordan, it is renovating schools attended by Syrian refugee children and has several projects aimed at building up the authorities’ water management capacities.

SDC project: Rehabilitation of schools in northern Lebanon

SDC project: Syrian refugee children welcomed by Jordanian classmates

Schools and water: Swiss emergency aid is implemented in Jordan, press release, 19 October 2015

Geneva: global hub of humanitarian aid

These mounting crises led the international community to rethink its humanitarian approach. In 2015, Geneva hosted two key events on the matter:

  • October 2015: Global Consultation, the outcome of which helped to shape the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016
  • December 2015: 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

Humanitarian action: Didier Burkhalter calls for a greater commitment from the international community, press release, 15 October 201

Ten resolutions adopted at the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, press release, 10 December 2015

Prevention is better than cure

The rising frequency of sudden-onset crises during 2015 once again provided proof of the importance of investing in prevention efforts in order to save human lives and limit material damage. Switzerland reiterated this point at the Sendai World Conference in March 2015, which saw the international community adopt a new 15-year action plan. Switzerland was instrumental in ensuring that vulnerable local communities will also benefit from preventive measures.