Managing crises, disasters and fragility

Protecting and assisting the victims of humanitarian crises and disasters is a priority for Switzerland's international cooperation. These humanitarian efforts focus on fragile contexts in particular. The links between hunger and conflict, crop failure, and how communities overcome traumatic events were important focuses for the SDC's work in 2017.

A young mother cradles her malnourished child outside a UNICEF-supported stabilisation centre in Malualkon, Aweil, South Sudan.
A young mother cradles her malnourished child outside a UNICEF-supported stabilisation centre in Malualkon, Aweil, South Sudan. © Knowles Coursin / UNICEF

Hunger on the rise again

Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen faced famines in 2017. Some 20 million people were affected by food insecurity caused by armed conflict and the El Niño climate phenomenon. The SDC was already active in these countries before the famines. In 2017 it made extra funding available to support emergency relief and development cooperation activities. 

International efforts to end hunger over the last 30 years seemed to be having an impact. The Sustainable Development Goal to achieve zero hunger was closer than ever. Since 2016, however, hunger has been on the rise again: today 815 million people suffer from hunger and a child dies every 10 seconds from the consequences of malnourishment or undernourishment.

Alongside severe weather events such as droughts, armed conflict is a major cause of this renewed increase in hunger worldwide. Hunger and conflict go hand in hand.

Scaling up existing efforts 

In 2017, famine on an unprecedented scale loomed against a backdrop of armed conflict in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Switzerland responded immediately to the UN Secretary-General's appeal in February 2017 and made an extra CHF 15 million available for humanitarian relief to alleviate famine. The funding helped secure better means of subsistence and access to clean drinking water for people affected by the crisis. Some of the funds were used to support ICRC missions and efforts by UN agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which help displaced people facing famine. Switzerland has also been supporting humanitarian efforts in the Lake Chad region; a regional programme in the Horn of Africa has been under way since 2013.

The international response averted unprecedented famine for the time being. But protracted armed conflicts, unfavourable weather conditions and weak governance structures are undoing progress to fight hunger in these countries. Preventing famine remains a huge challenge against this backdrop. Donors – including Switzerland – constantly have to adjust their aid to meet the growing demands. Switzerland is the biggest donor to the WFP's emergency response fund. It contributes CHF 6 million annually to this fund, which can deploy aid within 24 hours of the onset of a crisis. In Somalia, the fund made it possible to deliver 4,000 tonnes of specialised nutrition to vulnerable mothers and children. In 2017, Switzerland called for more use of cash-based assistance (cash or vouchers) to better meet the needs of people affected by disasters. In the last two years alone, 17 members of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit have provided expertise to the WFP. 

Humanitarian aid: only part of the solution 

People facing famine need urgent assistance, but emergency relief alone cannot end hunger or address its causes. To combat hunger, Switzerland uses its humanitarian aid in combination with development and peace policy instruments to improve the food security of the most vulnerable. It supports agricultural advisory services in South Sudan, helps Nigeria to prepare for coming dry seasons along with partner organisations, and provides Yemen with a platform for peace talks. 

Only peace – and thus a political resolution – can end hunger. Despite the setbacks, the Sustainable Development Goal of 'zero hunger' is still within reach. 

Famine in Africa and in Yemen

Southern Africa: strengthening rural resilience

 Logo of the R4 Initiative helping farmers manage climate risks.
© World Food Programme

"Last year I only harvested 10 sacks of rice – in good years I harvest 130!" Boyd Mungalu is one of millions of Zambian smallholder farmers. In drought-prone Southern Africa, food insecurity and chronic malnutrition affect 25 million people.

Art as a bridging language

Portrait of Hope Azeda, creator and curator of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival
© Chriss Schwagga

Especially in countries facing post-conflict situations, art and culture can make an important difference in overcoming social wounds. The SDC supports cultural projects in regions dealing with the consequences of conflict.

Myanmar refugee crisis in Bangladesh

 A man stands on the edge of a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. He is building a shelter for his family out of lengths of wooden pole.
© Keystone

At the end of 2017, Bangladesh was hosting more than 650,000 people fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar. They have taken refuge in the border region near Cox’s Bazar. The refugees have left everything behind. Many children have lost their parents.