Insights into Switzerland

Bern, Press release, 21.05.2014

As a mountainous country, Switzerland has a long tradition of coping with natural hazards such as floods, avalanches and landslides. As part of the Economic and Environmental Forum of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and in collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP), the government of the Canton of Valais organised two field visits that offered around 120 OSCE representatives insights into Switzerland's integrated risk management and promoted cooperation among states.

On 21 May 2014, around 120 OSCE representatives and experts from various countries gained insights into Switzerland's integrated risk management (IRM) plan during two field visits in the Canton of Valais. The first field visit centred on cross-border cooperation between Italy and Switzerland on the Great St Bernard route. The second field visit, which media representatives were also invited to take part in, focused on methods to prevent and cope with natural hazards and technical risks in the commune of Monthey in the Rhône Valley.

During the field trips the OSCE representatives were briefed on the Swiss approach to disaster risk reduction and coping with disasters. Switzerland has a good foundation in integrated risk management and a proven track record of cooperation at different levels of government: the Confederation, the cantons and communes. Responsible behaviour by companies and private individuals also plays an important role.

Because of its unique location as a mountainous canton traversed by the River Rhône, the Canton of Valais has a long tradition of dealing with natural hazards. Cantonal Councillor Jacques Melly welcomed the representatives on behalf of the government of Valais. Other specialists who accompanied the OSCE representatives on the field visit provided on-site explanations of protection measures against floods, landslides and avalanches.

The federal agencies that took part in the field visits were the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP). The SDC and the FOEN prepared the field visits in conjunction with the Valais cantonal government. The framework for Switzerland's integrated risk management (IRM) efforts is established by the FOEN, which also provides support for the compilation of hazard maps. The SDC – whose activities are carried out abroad – places particular emphasis on disaster risk reduction (DRR), focusing both on sudden-onset disasters such as floods and "creeping" disasters such as droughts and man-made crises.

The field visits were preceded by a preparatory meeting of the OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum in Montreux on 20 May. Under the auspices of the Swiss OSCE Chairmanship, representatives of national and international institutions, civil society, think tanks, academia and the private sector discussed prevention, coping with disasters and post-disaster reconstruction. The meeting was mainly an opportunity to exchange experience and network at the local, regional, cross-border and international levels.

At the opening event in Montreux, State Secretary Yves Rossier, head of the Directorate of Political Affairs of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), said:  "Disaster risk cooperation is a win-win situation and can be a powerful apolitical means to create trust among the stakeholders."  During his speech at the OSCE preparatory meeting, the Humanitarian Aid Delegate of the Swiss Confederation, Manuel Bessler, called for a move away from a reactive disaster response approach to a proactive disaster prevention approach with commensurate investment. Halil Yurdakul Yigitgüden, Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities, also underscored that natural hazards require adaptations at the local level and that no group or organisation can manage the risks on its own. The results of the Montreux conference, as well as those of the preparatory meeting on 27 and 28 January, will be incorporated into the high-level conference of the OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum to be held in Prague from 10 to 12 September.

Further information:

OSCE Switzerland 2014
Swiss Chairmanship of the OSCE on Twitter
SDC activities in the context of the OSCE
BFAU (de)

Address for enquiries:

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Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications