Emergency relief: Swiss Humanitarian Aid's main mission

A father and daughter beside a fruit and vegetable stall in a refugee camp.
In Iraq millions of people displaced by war have turned to refugee camps for food and water. © SDC

Switzerland provides emergency relief in situations of crisis, conflict and disaster, with full respect for universal humanitarian principles. The main goal of such operations is to save lives and alleviate suffering. The Humanitarian Aid of SDC places the needs of the affected people at the centre of its activities and advocates for their own involvement in humanitarian efforts.

SDC Focus

Emergency relief is the primary mission of the SDC's humanitarian aid activities performed on Switzerland's behalf. This means providing food and drinking water as well as emergency medical care for people in need. It also includes temporary shelter for refugees and internally displaced persons. Ensuring protection for the most vulnerable is a priority of the Humanitarian Aid of SDC.

Needs-based action

Switzerland provides emergency relief where:

  • there are major humanitarian needs and a large number of people face serious difficulties as a result of a crisis, armed conflict, natural or technological disaster or an epidemic;
  • the local, national and regional capacities are lacking or unable to cope with such crisis situations and their consequences.

In order to assess the needs and decide where and when to act, the Humanitarian Aid of SDC is guided by appeals for assistance from the states concerned, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) and/or the relevant UN bodies. It also draws on the observations of Swiss representations abroad and various NGOs.

The Humanitarian Aid of SDC responds rapidly on the ground, guided by the specific needs and in accordance with the fundamental principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

Emergency relief tools

Switzerland's emergency relief activities take a variety of forms:

  • deployment of Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit experts
  • distribution of food and basic necessities
  • disbursement of funds to partner organisations working in the crisis zones
  • continued international advocacy and on the ground to ensure access to humanitarian aid for the victims.


Humanitarian challenges have multiplied over the years and become more and more complex. Crises, conflicts and disasters are increasing in number, scope, intensity and duration. Such situations often result in violations of international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. In brief, the humanitarian system is reaching its limits, and the biggest victims are civilian populations. Millions of people have fled suffering and violence worldwide, and such migratory flows and their consequences are also being felt in Europe. But it is always the countries of origin and their neighbouring states that bear most of the burden.

Support for local stakeholders

Switzerland advocates for international efforts that bolster the affected countries' own local, national and regional mechanisms for humanitarian action in situations of crisis or disaster. Only through such an approach can these countries and communities build the resilience needed to withstand future disasters and instability.

Transitioning to reconstruction and rehabilitation

Emergency relief measures generally come to an end when all humanitarian needs are under control and the authorities of the country concerned are again in a position to provide basic services to the local population. Once this has been achieved, humanitarian efforts can concentrate on reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Where a natural disaster has caused total devastation, or in the case of a prolonged crisis such as in Syria, aid programmes should include incentives for local populations to pursue their development autonomously in the medium to long term. Within the SDC, the specialists in humanitarian aid and in development cooperation often work together for the welfare of beneficiaries.

Current projects

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African Risk Capacity (ARC)

01.12.2016 - 31.08.2019

The African Risk Capacity is a specialised agency of the African Union to help African countries improve their capacities to better respond to extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, therefore protecting the food security of their populations. It uses modern finance mechanisms such as risk pooling to create pan-African climate response systems. SDC co-finances the expansion of this insurance scheme to new countries, including the development of contingency plans that will allow insurance pay-outs to countries in case of drought or floods related catastrophes.

South Sudan, DCA: Educational Support in Area 1

01.09.2016 - 31.08.2018

The two civil wars fought in Area 1 as well as prolonged marginalization in the education system have deprived local communities from access to education for decades. In response, Local Partner 1 (LP1) has worked with Area 1 communities since 1995 and supported the introduction of a new Kenyan curriculum. Improved access and quality of education for all in Area 1 is both a basic human right and a powerful tool to address the cycles of poverty and conflict affecting the communities.

Strengthening and sustaining results for children and women in fragile, conflict-affected as well as climate and disaster-prone contexts

01.07.2016 - 30.06.2018

UNICEF through its 138 Country offices (CO) supports governments (especially at local level) and partners to reduce risk and strengthen resilience. To achieve this, UNICEF is currently increasing its focus on fragility and supports disaster risk reduction (DRR), climate change adaptation (CCA) and peacebuilding (PB) while also promoting a multi-hazard approach to Risk Informed Programming (RIP).

Ecuador Earthquake: Contribution to IFRC Emergency Appeal

11.05.2016 - 31.12.2017

On 16 April, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck coastal areas in north-west Ecuador. The most affected areas are the provinces of Manabi,Esmeraldas, Santa Elena, Guayas, Santo Domingo and Los Ríos, for which the Government has declared a “state of emergency”. Through its Emergency Appeal, the IFRC aims at supporting the Ecuadorian Red Cross (ERC) to assist 100’000 people affected by the earthquake over a period of 12 months and will focus on health, WASH, shelter, and livelihoods.

Grands Lacs: Fonds régional Actions urgentes

05.05.2016 - 31.03.2018

A small action is a one-off contribution to a humanitarian endeavour with no following phase that has to be operationally completed within a maximum period of 12 months. It is a flexible, efficient and transparent tool for SDC HA to support small humanitarian activities, including emergency response.

Caritas Maroc : Promouvoir l’exercice des droits humains des migrants au Maroc

01.04.2016 - 31.03.2019

Morocco is a country of transit and destination for migrants and refugees, 20’000 of which live on the margins of society, despite Morocco in 2014 adopting a first ever migration strategy, promising the respect of human rights and access to public services. Caritas enables 3’000 vulnerable migrants per year - mainly women and children - to translate access rights into access reality, and coaches public and civil society service providers to care for the specific needs of the new clients.

Support to Strategic UNRWA Interventions

01.03.2016 - 28.02.2018

SDC support to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestine Refugees in the Near East) will enable the Agency to further implement strategic interventions in support of the 2016-21 UNRWA Medium-Term-Strategy. These interventions will also strengthen the Swiss role in the Agency’s governing structure and support the leadership of Commissioner-General’s Executive Office. The strategic interventions will build on SDC’s comparative advantages and expertise.

Swiss experts to UN agencies in the frame of the regional crises in the Middle East

24.02.2016 - 31.12.2017

The Middle East is currently contending with two L3 crises:  Iraq and Syria. Over 20 million people need humanitarian assistance: refugees, lDPs, host communities. In line with the Swiss Cooperation Strategy 2015-

2018, SHA experts provide technical support & strategic advice to UN agencies, contributing to a strengthened, coordinated response. The deployed experts allow Switzerland to expand its operational engagement and humanitarian presence in the region, including in contexts where SDC has no office (Iraq and Syria).

Long-term support to UNRWA’s reform

01.01.2016 - 31.12.2017

This intervention will enable UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestine Refugees in the Near East) to further implement its development mandate by supporting two substantial components of its 2016-21 reform agenda, namely: the Resource Mobilization Strategy and the Protection Framework. These reforms will improve the overall provision of services by increasing and diversifying funding for the Agency and by strengthening the protection mandate and activities of UNRWA.

Secondment Fund Sudan 2016-17

01.01.2016 - 31.03.2018

Despite years of assistance, the humanitarian needs remain acute in several fragile regions of Sudan. This is due to continued armed conflict, lack of human security – especially that of children –, poor food security and livelihoods, and very rudimentary basic services. This consequently leads to ever increasing internal displacement and multiple emergencies. The deployment of Swiss experts (secondees) to multilateral organizations strengthens the effectiveness and the efficiency of the humanitarian response, and bolsters measures for early recovery and better resilience.

Support for OHCHR leadership of the Protection Cluster in oPt

01.01.2016 - 31.12.2017

SDC contribution to OHCHR-led Protection cluster will strengthen the protection of the Palestinian population in the oPt through effective leadership of the largest humanitarian cluster in the oPt, ensuring coordination and provision of guidance on international humanitarian and human rights law, coordination of advocacy on protection issues, coordination of holistic responses to protection concerns, and protection mainstreaming in the humanitarian interventions in the oPt. This intervention is in line with SDC Cooperation Strategy 2015-2018 for the oPt.

Renforcement du Croissant Rouge Tunisien en tant qu'acteur de changement

15.12.2015 - 30.06.2018

Disposant d'un réseau d'envirion 10'000 bénévoles, le Croissant Rouge Tunisien (CRT) constitue l'organisation caritative la plus importante en Tunisie. Ce projet vise à développer les capacités du CRT à travers le développement organisationnel, le renforcement des capacités des ressources humaines et le développement institutionnel afin qu'il puisse répondre à son mandat de manière fiable et professionnelle. Le partage des responsabilités entre le Gouvernement et le CRT comme acteur de la société civile et auxiliaire de l'État permettra une performance et un engagement plus importants par exemple dans la migration. 

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