On two recent occasions, Swiss Humanitarian Aid once again proved its availability and effectiveness, intervening simultaneously after two particularly lethal disasters: the cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the earthquake that devastated Sichuan in China. In both of these countries, the SDC had been active long before the disasters.
The SDC has been present in Myanmar for several years. Together with Swiss and local partner organisations it has been funding – at a level of CHF 3.5 to 4 million per year – and implementing programmes concerned with health, water, food security, protection of displaced persons, and prevention of human trafficking. Nearly one million people, including a large number of small-scale farmers, are benefiting from this assistance, which is concentrated in the eastern part of the country and in the refugee camps located in neighbouring Thailand.
The support provided to China is of an entirely different nature. Between 2005 and 2007, the SDC implemented a project establishing a preventive alarm system in the event of flooding in the region of the Yangtse River. This project was carried out in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, a specialised private company, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and the relevant Chinese authorities.
The snowball principle
Most importantly, however, in 2002, the SDC, in collaboration with the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport, launched a large-scale programme for training specialised earthquake rescuers. The underlying idea of the programme is simple, but effective: it is based on the snowball principle. The programme consisted in training trainers who, in their turn, would then be able to train rescuers located in regions exposed to high seismic risks. The programme also included training of search and rescue dog handlers, in collaboration with ORARIS, a private partner specialising in canine education.
In this programme, as well, Chinese authorities were closely involved in both theoretical and practical training – a chief success factor in any process of transfer of know-how. Speaking of which, a brand new training centre has just been inaugurated in Beijing. Currently, over twenty trainers are operational. They have trained some 200 rescuers who were able to intervene directly to assist the victims of the earthquake of past 12 May.