Swiss assistance during hard times

Swiss assistance during hard times

Armenia is located in one of the most seismically active regions of the world. One of Armenia’s most devastating tragedies occurred on December 7, 1988. An earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale completely destroyed the town of Spitak, over 25,000 people were killed, and the consequences of the catastrophe are still being felt. Swiss experts were among the first who came to assist the survivors. This is how the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) began its operations in Armenia. For nearly three decades the SDC has been working on various disaster risk reduction projects, aiming at improving local and central preparedness systems.

Text : Armen Mouradian  /  Photo : Embassy of Switzerland, Swiss Cooperation Office South Caucasus


From firefighters to rescuers

The threat of another earthquake has since been hanging in the air. Swiss Humanitarian Aid therefore has been working with Armenia’s authorities to help strengthen their decentralized search and rescue operations. Since 2004, Armenian firefighters have been trained and equipped to respond to disasters.
According to statistics, 90% of all rescues are undertaken by people who are living or performing duties directly near the disaster area.
“There are 62 fire stations around the country, so we came to the conclusion that there is no better option but to train their staff also in basic rescue as well as to equip them with relevant tools and materials to perform the rescue operations efficiently. In 2004-2010 we have managed to train and to equip 2400 firefighters in Armenia,” – says Swiss Cooperation Office National Program Officer Sergey Hovhannisyan. Now they are the first to respond in the event of a disaster, available 24/7.

Medical Mobilization
Firefighter-rescuers can save people, but they are not qualified to provide professional medical support. To fill the gap and to make another step towards a complete rescue structure a new project aimed at improving medical onsite response capacities in Armenia was launched. During 2009-2014, 27 Medical Units were established and 540 healthcare professionals were trained and equipped to provide professional onsite emergency medical assistance to disaster victims in collaboration with rescue teams.
As a final step this project has established a high quality system for continuous training in disaster medicine for healthcare professionals in the country.

Disaster management
To manage disasters effectively SDC provided expertise to establish a National Crisis Management Center and a 911 Call Centre with regional branch centers to strengthen Armenia’s preparedness system. The project triggered improvement of governmental policies and procedures in disaster response, as well as strengthened the inter-agency cooperation related to disaster preparedness.

Marvelous Five

Finally, based on positive results achieved and thanks to a productive cooperation with the government, SDC has supported further improvements of the rescue system in line with international standards by creating, training and equipping five Regional Rapid Response Teams (RRRTs) in Yerevan, Lori, Tavush, Shirak and Syunik regions. Between 2013 and 2016, the project trained 235 team members in their respective functions, ranging from search, rescue, medical assistance, communication and logistics to management, and provided them with special rescue equipment. The RRRTs are integrated into the existing response plans and deployment procedures and are able to adequately respond to disasters on national and regional levels coordinated by the central and regional governmental offices, respectively.

Armenia in INSARAG

Long standing cooperation created a solid basis for one of the teams – Yerevan RRRT to pass successfully INSARAG external classification in 2015 and for all RRRTS to pass domestic classification for the benefit of not only Armenian people but all people in the world, as the Yerevan RRRT can now be deployed internationally to help in case of an earthquake.
“Assistance of the Swiss side can’t be underestimated. The skills and equipment that we received are a huge contribution for the development and safer future of the country and region, – says Commander of Yerevan RRRT Gevorg Galstyan. – We hold seminars and exercises on a regular basis. Also we are preparing for 2020 INSARAG qualification with Switzerland as a mentor country.”
Since 2004, the Swiss assistance to Armenia for the preparedness and response amounts to almost six million Swiss francs.
After SDC Humanitarian Aid’s exit from the country the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Armenia as the main partner will continue to manage the results achieved together in the field of disaster risk reduction independently.
Check out the film about the Armenia-Swiss cooperation „Saving Lives in Armenia“on Youtube.

The International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) was established in 1991. This establishment followed the initiatives of the specialized international Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams who operated together in the Mexican earthquake of 1985 and Armenian earthquake of 1988. So as not to duplicate existing structures, the group was created within the framework of existing humanitarian coordination within the United Nations (UN). To this end the group’s secretariat falls within the Field Coordination Support Section (FCSS) of the Emergency Services Branch (ESB) of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva.
The INSARAG’s primary purpose is to facilitate coordination between the various international USAR teams who make themselves available for deployment to countries experiencing devastating events of structural collapse due primarily to earthquakes. The group achieves such coordination through facilitating opportunities for communication between these groups ahead of such events. These meetings of teams have resulted in many practical agreements between them that have streamlined working together during actual disasters. Much of the details on how these teams have agreed to work together can be found in the INSARAG Guidelines, a living document outlining the principles agreed within the group.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), established in 1961, is the Swiss center of excellence in development cooperation. SDC is responsible for implementing the Swiss Federal Council’s foreign policy on humanitarian aid, development, and cooperation with Eastern Europe. It supports countries in their efforts to overcome poverty- and development-related problems. For example, the SDC enables disadvantaged groups among the population to gain better access to education and healthcare, and it helps resolve environmental problems. The SDC places special emphasis on fragile states and countries affected by conflict.
The new Swiss Cooperation Strategy for the South Caucasus 2017–2020 aims at enhancing regional dialogue and cooperation; supporting the three South Caucasus countries in coping better with external economic, political and natural disaster shocks;  It will as well foster inclusive economic development and democratic institutions; Moreover, Switzerland will assist the three countries in peace promotion activities to find political solutions for conflicts, by this, contribute to increased human security. 67 million Swiss Francs will be invested to the region.
To learn more about the Swiss projects in Armenia visit