Mekong (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar)

Switzerland aims to reduce poverty, support equitable and sustainable development, and foster democratic governance in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. Switzerland is active in three sectors: social development, local governance and citizen participation, agriculture and food security, as well as vocational education and training.

Map of the region Mekong (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar)

Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam have achieved strong economic growth rates and significant prorgress in poverty reduction in the past 20 years.  They remain, however, among the poorest countries in southeast Asia.  Inequalities are growing and democratic participation remains weak.  Poverty is most widespread among the rural population and in ethnic minority groups. Agriculture provides livelihoods for approximately 80% of the population.

All countries face huge challenges such as improving social and environmental development, diversifying the economy and strengthening inclusive growth.  As they seek to enter the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, the social and economic gap with the other six ASEAN countries will have to be narrowed.

All stakeholders within the federal administration coordinate their activities using a common approach.  Switzerland's activities in the region all include the cross-cutting themes of gender equality, participation of marginalised groups and non-discrimination, adapting to climate change as well as disaster prevention and risk reduction. Key partners in the development cooperation are:

  • Swiss partners: Helvetas Intercooperation, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), Nestlé, Allianz Re, MeteoSwiss)
  • Ministries and provincial or district authorities
  • Local NGOs
  • International NGOs such as Care International, CORD (peacebuilding organisation), the WWF
  • Regional partners (The Centre for People and Forests, Mekong River Commission, Mekong Institute)
  • Bilateral donors such as Germany and the Nordic countries
  • Multilateral organisations such as the UNDP, World Bank, Asian Development Bank

Agriculture and food security

Income generation and livelihood security for smallholder farmers

To improve food security, Switzerland provides support to help smallholder farmers diversify their production and secure access to agricultural land, forests and means of production.  It helps them to earn higher incomes through targeted advisory services, strengthening value chains and improving access to markets.

In mountainous areas in northern Vietnam, Switzerland supports small-scale infrastructure projects and the participation of all parties affected in their planning and implementation at the village and municipal level.  Thanks to infrastructure (clean water and sanitation systems, kindergarten, primary schools etc.), living conditions in 37,900 rural households – especially of ethnic minorities and women – improved in 2013.  Refurbished inter-village roads, bridges and irrigation canals helped farmers increase their production and gain better access to markets.

Agriculture and food security

Local governance

Decentralisation and capacity building

Switzerland supports efforts to help women and men get involved in shaping policies and in planned public investment, as well as to hold public administrations accountable for their actions.   Citizens need quality social services with a focus on the most vulnerable, especially women and ethnic minorities.

In Laos, a programme co-financed by Switzerland aims to build the capacities of local administrations to improve the delivery of public services in the areas of education, health, water and agriculture under the District Development Fund (DDF) scheme.  The DDF promotes fiscal decentralisation and has allowed more than 4,600 officials and village heads and 18,000 villagers (36% women) to develop their capacities for participatory planning and financial management for small-scale infrastructures.

Advocacy and Good Governance

Vocational education and training

Better access to employment  

In the Mekong region, Switzerland is developing projects to improve skills and work opportunities for rural women and men.  In Cambodia, the SDC is seeking to support the government in implementing the new sectoral policy and promote migrant workers’ rights in national development strategies.

Basic education and vocational training

History of cooperation

From a bilateral to a regional approach

Active in the region since 1968, Switzerland can look back on a long tradition of bilateral cooperation with Vietnam, where it still maintains a programme office to this day. Vietnam attained the status of a middle-income country in 2010 which is why the SDC programme for poverty reduction will be phased out by 2016. In 2006, Switzerland opened a cooperation office in Vientiane in Laos which is responsible for the regional Mekong programme. Another programme office was opened in 2013 in Phnom Penn in Cambodia, where Switzerland also provided support to the Kantha Bopha hospitals of the Swiss doctor, Beat Richner.

Country programme in Myanmar

Since 1994, Switzerland's Humanitarian Aid Department has been working in eastern Myanmar as well as in the camps for Myanmar refugees in Thailand. Switzerland has maintained an embassy in Yangon since 2012 after the political upheavals in the country. Since then, Swiss humanitarian activities are being complemented by a broad development programme. The Myanmar country programme forms part of the regional Mekong programme.

Current projects

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Joint Peace Fund

01.04.2017 - 31.03.2026

After 60 years of conflict, the government and 8 Ethnic Armed Groups have signed a National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in October 2015, opening up a unique opportunity to find lasting peace. The Joint Peace Fund is a multi-donor fund set up to channel coordinated international support for such efforts, including the implementation of the NCA and following political dialogue of the peace process, a requirement for development especially in border areas.


The Agro-Biodiversity Initiative (TABI)

01.04.2017 - 30.09.2020

Maintaining high biodiversity in agro-ecosystems contributes to poverty reduction in rural livelihood. Better knowledge, tools and institutional arrangements are needed to support poverty alleviation and preserve biodiversity. Considering the current development context in Lao PDR, TABI supports the conservation and sustainable economic use of agro-biodiversity (ABD) in multifunctional landscapes, aiming at improving the livelihood of uplands farmers.


Support to the Reform of the Agriculture and Forestry Colleges in Lao PDR (SURAFCO)

01.03.2017 - 31.12.2020

Based on the government’s strategy, SURAFCO Phase III supports quality teaching in all five Agriculture and Forestry Colleges of Laos: college management, needs-based infrastructure, teaching equipment, knowledge sharing and exchanges. This is a key contribution to implement the Reform Strategy towards 2020 in order to increase the number of qualified agricultural and extension workers who can fulfil the need to move from subsistence-based to a market-based agriculture.


Strengthening democratic local governance

01.12.2016 - 30.06.2026

The project aims at supporting the democratic transition and the peace efforts in Myanmar. Using a decentralized budget support approach to all townships of one state in the Southeast of the country, it will strengthen township’s participatory planning and budgeting capacity. The project will also deepen the community’s capacity to demand public services. Additionally it will support national level policy discussions based on this experience.


Clearing for Result (CfR III): Mine Action for Human Development (2016-2019)

01.11.2016 - 31.12.2019

Although over the past 20 years Cambodia has cleared nationwide 1,412km2 of land from mines, an area of 1,640km2 still remains contaminated. Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) will clear over 27km² of heavily contaminated land ensuring safe access to productive land and improving poor rural communities’ livelihoods. SDC’s support to Cambodia’s mine action aligns with the Maputo Declaration 15+ commitment to declare Cambodia mine-free by 2025 and with the Swiss Humanitarian Mine Action Strategy (2016 – 2019).


Poverty Reduction Fund (PRF III), Phase 4

01.10.2016 - 30.06.2020

Since 2002, the Poverty Reduction Fund is a main programme in Lao PDR that effectively and efficiently delivers resources and public services, such as water supply, dispensaries, schools and village roads to the poorest villages in remote areas. PRF contributes to reduce rural poverty through enabling poor communities to assess their own needs and priorities through participatory mechanism and to determine how best to use resources to maximize their social and economic development.


Kantha Bopha Hospitals Cambodia

01.09.2016 - 31.12.2018

Founded by Dr. Beat Richner in 1992, the five Kantha Bopha Hospitals (KBH) provide in 2016 free of charge health services for children and expecting mothers, and cover around 60–85 % of all sick children in Cambodia. Given their broad coverage and their status as Governmental University hospitals, KBH are a crucial actor in the Cambodian health sector. While their long term financial sustainability is a concern, it is SDC’s objective through this proposal to address the matter.


Strengthening Community Resilience to Natural Hazards (DRR), Rakhine State

07.06.2016 - 31.12.2017

This project targets the major problems identified as the causes of inadequate resilience of communities, institutions and schools in coastal and urban areas in Rakhine State: a) limited Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) awareness, understanding, resources and capacity at community, school and government levels; b) lack of focus on investing in critical facilities for mitigating, preparing and responding to disasters; c) high frequency of hazard exposure and vulnerabilities in the target townships.


UNHCR, Protection Secondment, Yangon

01.06.2016 - 30.07.2017

The conflict in Kachin State broke out in mid-2011 and has left approximately 100,000 people displaced across Kachin and northern Shan States to date. UNHCR operates as part of the inter-agency humanitarian response mechanism in these areas; its main interventions include protection monitoring and support, shelter construction and renovation, support to camp management, and inter-agency coordination on behalf of the Cluster/Sector which includes the information management with the different stakeholders.


UNHCR, Protection Secondment

01.06.2016 - 30.07.2017

As the lead agency for the Protection Sector, UNHCR facilitates the coordination of the humanitarian response with primary attention to the situations in Rakhine and Kachin/northern Shan. Initiatives include protection mainstreaming, support to community-based protection groups, psycho-social support for women, and the development of referral pathways and protection assessment tools.

Currently UNHCR Myanmar deploys Coordinators for the Protection as well as Shelter / Non-food items (NFI) / Camp Coordination & Camp Management (CCCM) Clusters who lead the coordination activities at the national level. The proposed position of the SDC/SHA Secondment (Field Officer Coordination) will assist the two coordinators with their respective day-to-day work.


DRC: Promote and support an environment conducive for durable solutions in Rakhine State

01.06.2016 - 31.05.2018

This project supports a more comprehensive protection action in Rakhine State in Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM), Protection and Livelihoods. Through this action DRC (CCCM) will strengthen camp-based protection structures in Sittwe and Pauktaw Townships, and implement Community Based Protection, minimum Gender-based Violence (GBV) prevention and response services, including livelihoods, in Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw Townships.


Mekong River Commission (MRC) – Strategic Plan 2016-2020

01.06.2016 - 31.12.2020

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been supporting the Mekong River Commission (MRC) since the signing in 1995 of the “Agreement on Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin (a.k.a. “1995 Mekong Agreement”) by the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam until 2005. In 2011, SDC reinstated its support and contributed to 3 of MRC’s Programmes, namely the Basin Development Planning, the Environment, and the Flood Mitigation and Management Programmes. Currently, SDC supports the MRC with a contribution of CHF 7.5 million to a multi-donor basket fund for implementing the new Strategic Plan 2016-2020.

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Multimedia

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