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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Myanmar: NRC, Access to Civil Documentation, Kayah and Mon States

23.05.2016 - 22.05.2018

Due to the decades of conflict, entire communities have been unable to obtain their national ID cards, thus leading to their inability to exercise their rights and access to basic government services. In cooperation with the Ministry of Immigration and Population (MoIP), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) conducts a quick impact activity to provide beneficiaries in target communities in Kayah and Mon States with Citizen Scrutinity Cards (CSCs). The project aims to improve the protection environment for displaced persons, returnees and host communities. NRC provides innovative technical inputs and training of MoIP staff on the features of a one-stop, free-of-charge, same-day computerized service.

WFP – Cash-based Transfers

17.05.2016 - 30.07.2017

The nature and type of response provided to both humanitarian and development issues in Myanmar has evolved significantly in the past few years with an increased interest for cash transfer programming (CTP). Government and donors are encouraging CTP. Finance services providers and mobile companies are widening their coverage and will increasingly be able to support CTP. WFP’s Strategic plan 2008–2011 expanded the role of WFP from food aid to food assistance, introducing a more varied toolbox of responses, including cash and vouchers. Seconding WFP in Myanmar with two Cash experts is aiming at (1) providing technical support to the WFP team in Myanmar and (2) coordinating and representing the Cash Working Group (CWG) chaired by WFP.

The Asia Foundation: Strengthening Myanmar’s transition

01.05.2016 - 30.04.2019

On its path to a democratic and decentralised government system, Myanmar encounters significant obstacles, such as uneven national and subnational governance capacity and a tenuous peace process. By contributing to the Myanmar Strategic Support Program (MSSP), Switzerland supports the country’s efforts to improve subnational governance capacity to plan, budget and deliver services to the public, at State/Region and municipal level.

IOM: Improved Reconstruction of Flood and Cyclone Affected Schools in Rakhine State

01.12.2015 - 30.11.2017

The project aims at restoring an improved and safer educational environment for children of Rakhine (big majority of Buddhist) and Muslim communities in Rakhine State, whose schools have been destroyed by the July 2015 floods and also cyclone. The reconstruction of six schools in northern Rakhine with higher construction standards will serve as a pilot of the application of a national "Improved School Design" led by the Government with the support of the School Construction Sub Working Group (SCSWG), co-chaired by SDC. 

Malteser: Strenghtening Disaster Resilient Communities and Local Risk Management to Minimize Loss and Damage in Rakhine State

09.10.2015 - 08.10.2017

The project links disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation. It will seek to strengthen the resilience of communities to disasters through the development of adaptation plans, trainings and afforestation/reforestation of mangroves. The construction/rehabilitation of disaster resistant infrastructures will make evacuation points more accessible. And finally, the capacities of local authorities responsible for the coordination of the response in case of emergency will be strengthened.

Enhancing Nutrition of Upland Farming Families (ENUFF)

15.06.2015 - 31.03.2019

In Lao PDR, chronic malnutrition is a pressing issue affecting social and economic growth. Stunting prevalence is amongst the highest in the world, affecting an estimated 44% of children under five years of age, and exceeding 60% among children from upland ethnic communities. ENUFF project will contribute to the implementation of the national Multisectoral Food and Nutrition Security Action Plan (MSFNSAP), where various aspects like nutrition-sensitive farming, health, hygiene and care practices will be converged, leading to behaviour changes and an improved nutritional status in particular of women and children.

WFP Secondment Protection and Gender Advisor

01.06.2015 - 31.12.2016

In Myanmar especially conflict affected and rural populations suffer from moderate to severe malnutrition; but also extreme weather conditions may increase the situation of food insecurity. In recent years there have been reports on protection gaps in the implementation of WFP programmes and women and children are struggling to receive support. The secondment will provide technical support in the domain of protection and gender to the WFP country program.

Support to the transition phase of the Institut de la Francophonie pour la Médecine tropicale in Lao PDR (single phase)

01.03.2015 - 30.09.2017

One of the major difficulties to improve health and well-being of the populations in the Mekong sub-region comes from the shortage of well-trained health sector’s human resources to contribute to the reduction of health inequalities amongst subgroups of the population (incl. gender, ethnic groups). The project aims at maintaining the IFMT training activities while preparing the transformation into a sub-regional Centre of Excellence for the health and well-being of populations living in tropical zones.  

Community-Led Coastal Management in the Gulf of Mottama

15.02.2015 - 15.04.2018

In the rapid transition to a market economy and more democratic systems, control over Myanmar’s land, forest and fisheries is contested by citizens, government and the commercial private sector. In the productive and globally significant Gulf of Mottama, this program supports the development of local institutions for sustainable resource management with an emphasis on equitable access to fisheries and improved livelihoods of the rural poor.

Contribution to Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT)

05.12.2014 - 31.10.2017

As government reforms struggle to take hold, Myanmar is at a turning point. Sixty years of mismanagement and civil strife have driven 32% of the population below the poverty line, with women, and those in ethnic minority and conflict areas at higher risk. Through its contribution to the multi-donor Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), Switzerland helps improve livelihoods of over two million rural poor, while helping shape pro-poor government development strategies.


01.12.2014 - 31.12.2020

In Laos, tourism is the sector with the highest potential to create jobs for the poor. Switzerland and Luxembourg join hands to allow 5’000 youth (by 2020) to acquire the skills needed to work in hotels and restaurants, at least 50% of them women, and 50% from poor families. Dual Cooperative Training (apprenticeships) will provide for work place orientation of skills and facilitate an easy transition of trainees into gainful employment, with salaries that move their families above the 2 US$/day international poverty line.

Myanmar: Support to the 2015 Elections

01.12.2014 - 30.11.2018

The 2015 general elections are arguably Myanmar’s single most important step in its current historical political transition. They would be the first major democratic elections in the country in 50 years and will determine who will lead the country, its profound reforms and peace process at this crucial time. If sufficiently credible, transparent, inclusive and free of violence, they may lead to a scale up of intergovernmental support and direct foreign investment.

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