The war in Ukraine affects the daily life of Moldovans in many ways. It creates a sense of insecurity, which was particularly acute in the first months of the war and still remains present despite apparently fading into the background. Any developments in the war there automatically become the top news story here. The war also caused a high inflation rate and a significant decrease in economic production; it led to a disruption in the energy supply, a spike in energy prices as well as to deeper divides and new tensions within the society.
(Donation of medical Equipment in Causeni, autumn 2023)
What are the implications of all these dramatic changes for the development partners of the Republic of Moldova? How can they react to the new situation and adapt their programs? These are also relevant questions for Switzerland, a development partner present in Moldova since more than 20 years with a cooperation program that provides support in different areas such as healthcare, local governance reform, promotion of the civil society, economic development, and vocational education and training.
First, in a sign of tangible solidarity, partners can react by increasing the financial support – to Moldova, and, of course, also to Ukraine. Switzerland did its part and tripled within two years the financial volume of its assistance portfolio to Moldova, which increased to over 35 million Swiss Francs (or Euro) in 2023. Part of the additional funds were allocated to new cooperation projects, part was used to support the authorities in coping with the effects of the war, e.g. by contributing to subsidizing the energy bills for the most vulnerable inhabitants of Moldova. But increasing the budgets is not and cannot be the whole story. We realized that we had to adapt what we do, and how we do it.
Introducing a new approach – the nexus
At the center of the new way of working lies a coherent combination of short-term humanitarian efforts, long-term development assistance and the promotion of social cohesion and peace. This is what specialists call the humanitarian – development – peace nexus, or, in short, triple nexus.
(Event with the participation of Ukrainian refugees and hosts from Moldova, organized by the International Organisation for Migration Moldova in Cahul)
How to put the nexus into practice? A good example was given to me recently in an exchange with women leaders of locally rooted, Moldovan Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). They reacted very fast to the inflow of Ukrainian refugees by providing various forms of assistance, and needed some financial support in their humanitarian efforts.
But they also sought support in strengthening the capacities of their own organisations to better advocate for more gender equality, which requires longer-term development efforts. And finally, they were willing to collaborate with women-led CSOs active on the other side of the Nistru river, strengthening in this way social cohesion not only between refugees and the local population, but also within the Moldovan society.
Adapting to the new reality…
Switzerland tries to implement this holistic and integrated approach across its cooperation program in Moldova, knowing that there is no blueprint and that we have to learn together along the way. Many of the projects that were running prior to the outbreak of the war focused on promoting long-term changes and reforms. While this remains relevant, the projects had to be adapted to the new situation.
(Donation of the second Computer Tomography scanner in the country to the Causeni District Hospital "Ana și Alexandru")
In the healthcare sector, Swiss-funded projects have been adjusted to help improve the crisis preparedness and enhance the resilience of the healthcare system, especially with regards to the continuity of care in health emergencies. In response to the threats and challenges emerging from the war, Switzerland provided emergency medical equipment to hospitals and capacity building for health professionals to better respond to the needs of refugees. As the consequences of the war affect disproportionally vulnerable groups, including refugees and host communities, more attention is paid to ensuring their access to affordable healthcare services. Furthermore, Switzerland contributed to strengthening the capacities of the Moldovan public health system to react to radio-nuclear threats.
In the area of supporting the local public authorities and the civil society, Switzerland allocated additional funding to help these partners provide the needed support – among others, free food, transportation and accommodation – to the refugees. The local development and civic engagement mechanisms, previously developed with Swiss support, focus now increasingly on building crisis response capacities and on improving social cohesion.
While supporting the economic development of Moldova, the focus has been shifted to strengthen the economic resilience of small and medium enterprises and small farmers who have to face energy, climatic and economic shocks. For instance, the Swiss-funded program supports farmers in purchasing seeds, fertilizers and animal feed, which have become much more expensive than two years ago. Furthermore, the scope of the projects has been extended to foster the inclusion of refugees into the labor market.
…without losing the long-term objective
What is important, however, is that all the adaptations and add-ons do not undermine the long-term focus of the Swiss-Moldovan cooperation program, but complement it. This is even more important now in light of the new opportunities linked to the EU-candidacy status granted to Moldova in June 2022. Switzerland continues assisting Moldova in promoting various reforms, and at the same time complements these efforts with a short-term support to people in need and with a stronger focus on promoting social cohesion. As an example, we cooperate with the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection in advancing the reform of the social protection system, while at the same time we provide part of the social assistance which is needed to respond to the immediate needs of refugees and vulnerable Moldovans.
(Consultations with the development partners onthe social protection system reform ”RESTART” organised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection)
The current times are challenging. But I see also many encouraging signs. Since my arrival to Moldova in August 2022, I have had countless encounters that comforted me in the conviction that, together, we can achieve much in relatively short time. The partnership between Moldova and Switzerland is rapidly becoming stronger and stronger, and I consider it as a privilege to be here in these historical times and contribute to further strengthening the ties between our two countries.
Guido Beltrani, Director of Cooperation, the Swiss Cooperation Office in Moldova