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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Switzerland donates ambulances to Syria's suffering population

Switzerland is financing twelve new ambulances to improve the situation of people suffering from the consequences of the war in Syria. © FDFA

20.02.2016 - 31.10.2017

The SDC has delivered twelve new ambulances to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC). A Swiss delegation accompanied the delivery in the Syrian capital Damascus. The ambulances are urgently needed in Syria because the country's health system has too few ambulances to cope with the enormous number of victims caused by the war, including attacks against hospitals.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Humanitarian Assistance
Health system strengthening
Primary health care
Emergency and relief

20.02.2016 - 31.10.2017

CHF 900'000

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.

Nigeria, ACF, Nutrition and WASH assistance for Conflict-Affected Populations in North-East Nigeria

01.09.2016 - 31.08.2017

Since 2009, northeast Nigeria has been affected by insecurity as a result of armed conflict-related violence. The resulting humanitarian crisis has impacted over 14.8 million people, left 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance and displaced over 1.8 million people. With co-funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), ACF is complementing this nutrition intervention with WASH activities that will improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities and increase knowledge on hygiene behaviours and sanitation practices.

NRC Appui au relèvement Ndélé

01.08.2016 - 30.09.2017

Par son appui financier au projet de NRC, la DDC participe à l’amélioration de la sécurité alimentaire et des conditions de vie de populations les plus vulnérables, dans la préfecture de la Bamingui Bangoran, au nord-est de la RCA, par le rétablissement des moyens de subsistance et la réduction de l’impact des maladies liées à l’eau et assainissement. Le projet se déroule dans une zone de grandes tensions dues à une multitude de facteurs et applique des techniques sensibles au conflit d’une manière systématique

IRC, Enhancing multi-sectoral reponse to support conflict-affected populations in northeast Nigeria

01.08.2016 - 31.07.2017

As of June 2016, the violence of the extremist group Boko-Haram displaced 2.7 million people, 6% of them having taken refuge in neighbouring countries. The highly unstable State of Borno hosts 68% of the total displaced population, 86% of them are residing in host communities in dire overcrowded conditions. IRC proposes to improve access on protection, WASH and nutrition services for IDPs, returnees and host communities in Borno State.

Réponse multisectorielle d’urgence dans les territoires de Walikale et Masisi (Nord Kivu)

15.07.2016 - 31.07.2017

Le Nord Kivu reste le théâtre de violences armées fréquentes et de types divers qui induisent des déplacements massifs de populations (plus de 700'000 au Nord Kivu actuellement). Ce projet vise à offrir une réponse rapide multisectorielle (aide alimentaire, AME/abris, EHA, nutrition) aux besoins immédiats et un accès à des services de base aux populations déplacées et retournées vulnérables des territoires du Masisi et Walikale.

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).

Integrated response to health, nutrition and protection needs in Kibua, Walikale (North Kivu)

01.07.2016 - 30.06.2017

The population in targeted areas of North Kivu has been hugely affected by conflict and a large proportion of the population is unable to access basic health, nutrition and protection services when needed. Providing integrated primary health care, nutrition, and protection services to targeted sites in Kibua Health Zone will enable Save the Children (SC) to respond effectively to beneficiary needs using a holistic approach.

ACF-Solidarités : Amélioration de la Sécurité Alimentaire et Nutritionnelle dans les cercles de Tombouctou et de Goundam

15.06.2016 - 31.08.2017

Le contexte humanitaire de la région de Tombouctou se caractérise par des mouvements de populations, un taux de malnutrition élevé, un accès limité aux soins de santé et une sécurité fragile. A travers une réponse intégrée en sécurité alimentaire et nutrition avec un programme eau hygiène et assainissement, ce projet vise à améliorer les conditions de vie des populations vulnérables des Cercles de Tombouctou et de Goundam grâce à un appui monétaire au renforcement de leurs moyens de production et une amélioration de leur environnement sanitaire. 

UNV for Arauca Field Office

15.06.2016 - 14.07.2017

Over the past five years OCHA improved humanitarian coordination in Colombia through robust information management, coordination mechanism and sound assessments. Regular monitoring enabled OCHA to provide existing coordination mechanisms at both national and local levels with timely and accurate information and analyses, therefore increasing the quality of decision making processes directed towards humanitarian action and humanitarian response. It is noteworthy that the role of international humanitarian actors in Colombia is to complement and enhance state and governmental response efforts. However, there are constraints to be surpassed aimed at complementing institutions through better coordination.

South Sudan NGO Forum Support

01.06.2016 - 31.07.2017

The project aims at supporting effective and principled delivery of humanitarian assistance by facilitating improved information sharing, security risk analysis and advice, representation, and policy engagement among the NGO community in South Sudan. It will ensure enhanced capacity of national NGOs and strength­ened links between national and international NGOs. Coordination amongst humanitarian organisations and with other key stakeholders thus will be improved.

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