Rule of law and democracy, coping with global warming, transparent energy tariffs and water use rights: Switzerland's programmes seek to involve citizens more in political processes and ensure that everyone benefits from sustainable development.
Strengthening the rule of law, democracy and institutions
Citizens take to the ballot box to shape their country's future
An active civil society is central to stable, functional democracies. Civil society ensures that citizens' political, social and economic interests are heard. Furthermore, it scrutinises the activities of the government and demands transparency and accountability. In this way, an active civil society encourages social progress and economic growth. In young democracies – such as the countries of the Western Balkans – civil society faces hurdles that make it difficult to defend its interests and voice its concerns. Limited press freedom, widespread corruption and the political and social marginalisation of minorities are the cause.
In the two Western Balkan countries of Macedonia and Kosovo, there are still many challenges to be overcome. Perceived corruption is high and freedom of the press and opinion is not guaranteed. As part of two projects in Macedonia and Kosovo, Switzerland is directly supporting some 200 civil society organisations and actors working for social change in their countries. The projects aim to help these actors voice their concerns more effectively as part of the political process and at the same time to stimulate public debate.
Two SDC-backed civil society initiatives in Macedonia and Kosovo:
The citizens bringing about political change in Macedonia
In 2016, nationwide protests erupted against the Macedonian government of the time. The citizens were unhappy about the political direction the government was taking. The situation was aggravated by indications that the government was caught up in a corruption scandal. People took to the streets in a 'colour revolution' which led to new elections and a peaceful change of government in Macedonia. The SDC-supported organisations are working actively to ensure the corruption scandal is investigated and to develop a proposal to end the political crisis.
Kosovar success stories get citizens talking
AlbInfo is an internet platform providing topical content on the Western Balkans for people in the region and for the Albanian-speaking diaspora in Switzerland. The SDC is funding a series of reports on Kosovar success stories. Fashion designer, organic farmer or building contractor – their stories all promote ties between the diaspora and the Western Balkans region, strengthening the exchange of knowledge and experience also with political decision-makers.
Free Online Classes to mobilise effective climate action
Sound knowledge and targeted education on climate change are needed to help society adapt to global warming. Many people who are hardest hit by its consequences do not have access to knowledge and education on climate change. UN CC:Learn addresses this.
Sound knowledge and targeted education on climate change are needed to help society at large to address the threat of global warming. Many people who are hardest hit by its consequences do not have access to knowledge and education on climate change. The UN CC:Learn initiative fills this gap. The online platform offers a free e-learning course on climate change – accessible to anyone, anywhere. In 2017, the platform hit two landmarks at once: over 100,000 users in 195 UN countries registered to use it and over 10,000 certificates were issued for successfully completing the training.
UN CC:Learn - Learning to Live with Climate Change
Awareness about climate change is growing worldwide, but few have the knowledge and ability to adapt and mitigate the changes. The six UN CC:Learn modules explain how to use technology and policy interventions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and suggest ways to adapt to changing weather conditions, give advice on how to apply for climate funding and introduce the basic science of climate change. The e-learning course gives people from all over the world a basic tool kit to better understand climate change and develop appropriate solutions. A platform that builds the capacities of people and institutions, it has been recognised as the main international mechanism to take the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) described in the UN Climate Change Convention.
While imparting knowledge about global warming to young people, the initiative also supports governments in the development and implementation of national learning strategies on climate change. The UN CC:Learn project is funded by the SDC and implemented by UNITAR, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. The initiative is helping to implement the Paris Agreement and encourages and enables everyone to play their part.
Energy for a remote mountain region
Pamir Energy is a SECO-supported power utility in the Gorno-Badakhshan province of Tajikistan. It provides over quarter of a million people with reliable, sustainable, affordable water-powered electricity.
Pamir Energy supplies energy to 220,000 people – 96% of Gorno-Badakhshan's population. The company also supplies electricity to an additional 35,000 people on the other side of the border in Afghanistan. In recent years, it has renovated eleven hydroelectric power plants and some 4,300km of pipeline. This has significantly improved the lives and economic prospects of the people who live there. They now have electric lights, can cook without fire, and new businesses are moving to the area.
Electricity bills by mobile phone
Electricity around the clock – a novelty in this remote, inhospitable region where natural hazards abound, temperatures drop to minus 50 in winter, and villages perch far above 3000 meters.
Paying electricity bills is no easy task in this former Soviet territory. Pamir Energy thus provides each customer with an individual meter. 33,000 digital measuring devices ensure people know how much electricity they use and what they are charged, which increases trust. The customers receive a monthly electricity bill on their mobile phone – and can use their phone to pay it.
In 2017, Pamir Energy received the Ashden Award. The renowned international prize is awarded to successful sustainable energy projects.
Pamir Energy has been run on the basis of a public-private partnership since 2002. Involved in the project alongside the government of Tajikistan and SECO are the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, the International Finance Corporation and the International Development Association.
Sustainable cross-border management of the Mekong river basin
More than 60 million people depend on the Mekong river as it flows southwards, feeding an entire region that bears its name and supporting a unique wealth of biodiversity and aquatic resources.
The Mekong is also the driver of a hydroelectric industry which is both contributing to the development of the region and destabilising its natural equilibrium. The many dams built along its course have altered the river's hydrology, affecting the food security of the people who depend on it, and potentially sowing the seeds of conflict. The situation is compounded by the effects of climate change, which range from drought to floods.
The countries of the lower basin – Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam – created the Mekong River Commission to address these cross-border challenges and allow for the integrated management of water resources. With Switzerland's support, since 1995 the Mekong River Commission has been encouraging dialogue and transparency among all of the countries concerned – including China and Myanmar – and promoting the development of knowledge on Mekong-related issues.
In 2017, in the context of the project to build the Pak Beng hydropower plant in the north of Laos, the Mekong River Commission coordinated a consultation process to assess the impact of the cross-border water management and mitigate or avert potential consequences such as changes in current. The Mekong River Commission is also a hub for technical expertise. The creation of a flood forecasting system and monitoring of water quality are two projects co-financed by Switzerland.