Myanmar a year on: Switzerland remains proactive
On 1 February 2021, the military seized power in Myanmar. As the months went by, Switzerland shifted its efforts to focus more on the basic needs of communities and reducing conflict. A year after the coup and Switzerland is still active in Myanmar and wants to support the country's transition to democracy. Two SDC experts, Thin Myat Khine and Giacomo Solari, report from Yangon.
Switzerland has adapted cooperation programmes on the ground to take account of the new circumstances. © FDFA
The Primary Health Care project works with both government and ethnic health organisations to promote cooperation between the two systems. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) supports this project, which aims to improve healthcare for particularly vulnerable population groups in Kayin State in Myanmar. Following the military coup, the SDC stopped working with the government health authorities and stepped up its partnership with ethnic health organisations, which provide health services in areas controlled by the ethnic minorities.
This is an example of how Switzerland has adapted cooperation programmes on the ground to take account of the new circumstances and avoid legitimising the military coup. It has strengthened partnerships with ethnic-group based service providers, civil society, the United Nations and the private sector. Switzerland's long-term commitment was a key factor that enabled it to respond quickly to the situation and adopt alternative solutions to pursue its programme goals. "Switzerland's long-term investment in the capacity of the ethnic health organisations was crucial in enabling them to continue providing healthcare and humanitarian assistance during the political crisis and COVID-19 pandemic in 2021", explains Thin Myat Khine, SDC Programme Officer specialising in healthcare in Myanmar.
Switzerland still wishes to support Myanmar's transformation into a prosperous democratic state. In 2022 the SDC's main goals are to alleviate humanitarian suffering, strengthen the resilience of local communities, reduce violence and promote dialogue. Switzerland pursues these goals through diplomacy, humanitarian aid, development cooperation and peacebuilding.
It is likely to take years, however, before we see more stability and democracy returning to Myanmar. What have these changes meant for people in Myanmar? An update from Yangon.
"The cooperation programmes prioritise interventions that create dialogue"
Giacomo Solari has been working as the SDC's Head of International Cooperation in Yangon since 2018. He saw major economic progress in Myanmar after a decade of gradual political liberalisation. Poverty had fallen significantly and young people had come to appreciate their newly-found freedoms and opportunities. "The coup has destroyed these gains and the hopes of a whole generation for a better future. The worsening conflicts are estimated to have displaced around 450,000 people inside the country, and about 30,000 have fled to neighbouring countries," he explains. According to the UN, more than 14 million people currently rely on aid.
The pandemic and the coup have hit Myanmar's economy and population hard. "Unemployment and poverty have risen sharply and the economy shrank by 18% in 2021," says the SDC expert. So how have people responded to the military take-over? "For weeks after, people took to the streets in all parts of the country to make their voices heard against the coup". In response to the coup and the increasingly violent crackdowns on demonstrators and the population, new armed resistance groups calling for democracy have emerged in different parts of Myanmar and are waging offensives against the military regime. "The already complex landscape of this conflict has become even more muddled. The ongoing political polarisation is exacerbating existing conflicts among ethnic groups in the country's border regions," says Solari.
On the anniversary of the military coup, Switzerland adopted a joint statement with other counties. "We call on all parties to put an immediate end to the violence, resume dialogue and return to the democratic transition process," adds Solari. Switzerland remains active in Myanmar, and its cooperation programmes will prioritise interventions that contribute to conflict transformation and dialogue until the end of 2023.
Switzerland's international cooperation is based on its Foreign Policy Strategy and aims to combat poverty in developing countries and to contribute to their sustainable development. To achieve this goal, Swiss international cooperation efforts pursue a three-pronged approach deploying humanitarian aid, development cooperation and multilateral engagement.