Global Context

In an increasingly interdependent world, challenges, such as climate change, food security, economic and financial crises, as well as poverty and armed conflicts, do not stop at borders.  The actions of individual countries are not enough to overcome them or address their causes. A collective effort at both global and local levels is needed more than ever.

Economic, geopolitical, environmental, societal and technological forces – and their associated risks – are increasingly interrelated. Environmental degradation has reached the point where it is even threatening the basis of life and development. The deterioration of ecosystems, pollution and shrinking biodiversity are not only threatening the foundations of life but also the health and potential for development of people living in poverty.

With the advance of climate change, extreme meteorological phenomena, such as droughts, floods or hurricanes, are becoming increasingly frequent and violent. They are reaching regions that up to recently have been spared and are now affecting increasing numbers of people. This is threatening food security and forcing those affected to find alternatives, including through migration.

Significant reduction in poverty but not for all

Considerable progress has been made in reducing poverty and in advancing human development in the last few decades. The international community has never been so close to eliminating extreme poverty.  The proportion of people living in extreme poverty (on less than USD 1.25 a day) in developing countries fell from 47% in 1990 to 14% in 2015.

But although poverty around the world is declining, more than two billion people are still living on less than USD 2 per day. Within countries, economic, social and political disparities continue and are even growing and cumulating. They stem from discrimination based on income, gender, and social, ethnic and religious identity. Women and girls continue to be confronted with many different forms of discrimination and violence, and account for almost 70% of all people living in extreme poverty.

In least developed countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia or Haiti, poor people make up the majority of the population. The African continent, where 80% of poor people will be living by 2025, is especially affected.  In sub-Saharan Africa, almost one in four people are still suffering from hunger.

In middle-income countries experiencing sustained economic growth, a large proportion of the population is still living in poverty. At the same time, poverty tends to concentrate especially in fragile contexts where, according to the OECD, almost two thirds of the world’s poor will be living by 2030. In terms of poverty and human security, these contexts will be the most challenging in the coming years.

Strengthening institutions to consolidate gains

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), almost 800 million people risk falling back into poverty as a result of unforeseen events. A poor harvest, unexpected medical costs, a natural disaster, an armed conflict or an economic or financial crisis can force individuals or whole communities back into poverty. The earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the poorest country in the Americas, not only killed 230,000 people, but also rendered 1.5 million homeless, deprived children of schools and the sick of hospitals. An armed conflict can destroy in a few years progress that has taken decades to achieve. According to estimates, between 2011 and 2015 the life expectancy of Syrians fell by 20 years.

The SDC, as well as SECO and the FDFA’s Human Security Division, has since been strengthening institutions and the rule of law in those countries where it is active. Specifically, there is an urgent need to establish a health insurance system accessible for all, to fund the training of qualified health personnel able to fight pandemics such as the Ebola virus effectively, and to invest in basic education and vocational training for young people.

Finding lasting solutions means addressing the root causes of conflicts, such as social and political exclusion, the growing resort to violence, inadequate economic opportunities, and the lack of access to justice for certain population groups. The SDC is also helping numerous countries set up effective mechanisms to prevent natural disasters.

Switzerland as a bridge-builder

In a multipolar world where there is a wide diversity of global and regional, as well as traditional and emerging forces at play, resolving crises, conflicts and global challenges is becoming increasingly complex. In this context, Switzerland is increasingly playing a role as bridge-builder.

The economic power of some emerging economies, such as China, India, South Africa, Brazil, as well as Nigeria and the Gulf states, is growing steadily. The companies of these emerging economies are becoming increasingly international, and the economic links between countries of the South are becoming closer and stronger.

Countries are also distancing themselves from traditional forms of international aid and even refusing it outright. Different value systems and world views are living side by side. Multilateral negotiations, for example on trade or climate, are becoming increasingly difficult, reflecting this changing world order. Different values as well as antagonisms can slow down or even paralyse institutions. Meanwhile, new institutions are emerging such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which was established by China for financing infrastructure projects.

Multiple interconnected actors

In its international cooperation, alongside Switzerland and other traditional donors, there is an increasingly diverse group of actors, including emerging donor countries, private companies, civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, foundations, diaspora groups, as well as religious leaders and armed groups. This multiplication of actors is making coordination increasingly complex.

The interconnectedness and mobility of the various actors and new technologies are accelerating the interaction of ideas and knowledge at an unprecedented pace. Social media makes it possible to report human rights violations and make political leaders accountable for their actions; mobile telephone applications can help bring health or financial services to a remote village.

And mobility within and between countries is intensifying. Although global migration movements are unfortunately often the cause of tragedy for men, women and children forced into exile, they also contribute to development and create dynamic forces and opportunities. Urbanisation is surging ahead, bringing with it new forms of poverty and a whole series of challenges in areas ranging from waste management to the development of public transport systems, education, jobs and decent housing.