Protecting development gains through effective prevention
Half of the world's population is exposed to the risk of natural disasters. For the SDC, this is a priority issue. In some countries, social and economic progress achieved through decades of development work can be undone by flooding, an earthquake or a tropical storm. In Haiti, Hurricane Matthew is a recent reminder of just how vulnerable people are.
In recent decades, thousands of people have lost their lives as a result of earthquakes, flooding, drought, landslides, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. These disasters strike poor and industrialised countries alike, but the impact is greater on less developed countries.
Reducing disaster risk is a priority issue for the SDC. Its work in high-risk countries focuses on prevention, improving disaster-response mechanisms and putting in place measures to avoid similar situations in the future. On the ground, it runs its own projects and supports the work of partner organisations.
Switzerland is also able to provide a team of humanitarian experts, the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit, to its partner governments upon request. Experts in reconstruction and risk prevention are seconded to the ministries in charge of these issues. Christian Ubertini works in Haiti, where the SDC is helping reduce the impact of natural disasters through a long-standing bilateral cooperation programme. In Morocco, the SDC is backing the authorities' efforts to implement a national integrated risk-management programme.
"The schools resisted the hurricane"
Christian Ubertini, an architect, has been working in Haiti since 2009. He was in charge of the SDC's school construction programme in Port-au-Prince until 2013, after which he was seconded to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Christian Ubertini, did the SDC's disaster prevention activities in Haiti help mitigate the impact of Hurricane Matthew?
Yes I think they did. We found that schools built on the basis of the standard model, either by the SDC or by partners, resisted without particular damage, while neighbouring buildings were severely damaged or even destroyed. We have been told that these schools were also used as shelters for the population during and after the hurricane, which probably saved lives. Today, I am happy to see that the schools have already reopened and that the pupils will be able to continue their school year normally and in good conditions. This is probably one of the most significant effects of the work we have done here since the 2010 earthquake. Efforts that are beginning to bear fruit.
The SDC worked with the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training to have the school building standards developed by the SDC apply to all Haitian schools. How did that go?
I should first point out that the development of model school buildings was one of the main components of the SDC's programme in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. In other words, their use as a nationwide standard was not an objective in itself. It was the Haitian government that set up an independent working group to look at the question of standards. This was because a large number of organisations were proposing different models in a wide range of costs, without any real coordination with the Ministry of Education. I coordinated the work of the working group, as an expert seconded to the Ministry by the SDC. The Ministry evaluated the methods and procedures developed by the SDC and then recommended them to the Haitian government, which approved them in April 2014.
You also work at the Inter-American Development Bank. So you have two roles?
Yes. The IDB is the largest donor in the school construction sector in Haiti, and I am helping it implement the various programmes it is funding. It is now estimated that 100 schools will be built using the SDC's model plans. At the same time, I am working inside the Ministry of Education to strengthen its capacities in terms of monitoring and coordinating the effort to build more public schools in Haiti.
What makes the partnership with the IDB so interesting from a humanitarian point of view?
In general, working with a donor like the IDB has a multiplier effect on the SDC's work and helps spread the SDC's expertise far and wide, which is especially important in the eyes of its main partner, the government. That's what we are able to do through the partnership with the IDB. This type of partnership is particularly effective in post-crisis work – where the aim is for a medium- or long-term impact – in the reconstruction sector specifically and in disaster risk reduction more broadly.
Morocco is another country where the SDC seconds Swiss experts to government ministries. A risk-management specialist is currently working in the general secretariat of Morocco's Ministry of the Interior. He is advising and assisting the Ministry in implementing the national integrated natural disaster risk management programme, which covers the entire country. This programme brings together the technical ministries in question, universities, regional authorities (prefectures, provinces and communes) and a number of development agencies.
In addition to seconding its experts, the SDC maintains close contact with various ministries through its office in Rabat. It also provides targeted technical and financial support in response to expressed needs.
Knowledge transfer takes place in Switzerland, as well. In September 2016, around 10 Moroccan officials from various ministries, all involved in managing natural risks, went to Switzerland on a study trip. Participants engaged in intense discussions on the preventive strategies and measures that have been put in place at the federal level and in a number of cantons and communes.