Mekong region (Cambodia and Lao People's Democratic Republic)

Switzerland works to build inclusive societies in the Mekong region, particularly in Cambodia and Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), by promoting equitable and sustainable development and democratic governance. To support young people, women and disadvantaged groups, Switzerland implements programmes in governance and citizen participation, climate change and natural resources management as well as inclusive economic development.

Despite high economic growth since the early 2000s, which has enabled the Mekong countries to achieve progress in reducing poverty, inequality is rising, affecting rural populations in particular. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major socio-economic crisis. The most vulnerable groups, such as women, ethnic minorities and people living in remote areas, are also the worst affected by an economic model built on the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.

Switzerland’s Mekong Region Cooperation Programme 2022-25 aims to enable young people, women and disadvantaged groups to be more prosperous, resilient and better included in development processes. It aims to improve livelihoods by strengthening local institutions and enhancing policies

Climate change and natural resource management

Switzerland aims to make people more resilient to climate change and disasters, with more secure and equitable access to natural resources (land, forest and water) and to manage those resources sustainably.

In Cambodia, Switzerland is supporting smallholder farmers for enhanced resilience to climate change and disasters with Swiss expertise in sustainable water resources and irrigation management. Some 150,000 people acquire specific knowledge to apply agro-ecological approaches and better access to technologies and services supplied by the public and private sector.

In Laos, a dam collapsed in 2018 causing the most important manmade flooding disaster in the country’s history and affecting thousands of poor families. Switzerland shares its expertise in dam safety to strengthen the national dam safety regulatory and institutional frameworks to international standards, thereby protecting downstream communities and contributing to safe energy production and the sustainability of infrastructure.

At regional level, Switzerland supports the Mekong River Commission (MRC), which is an intergovernmental organisation. The MRC serves as a regional platform for dialogue and water diplomacy and as a knowledge centre on water resources management for sustainable development.

Climate change and the environment

Governance and Citizen Participation

Switzerland aims that people could benefit from responsive public service delivery and could actively engage in local and national governance processes.

In Cambodia, Switzerland supports a project on "Improved Service Delivery for Citizens". It improves access to socially equitable and inclusive public services for the benefits of all citizens through a One-Window-Service-Offices and improving municipal water and waste management. Switzerland is also helping to fund hospitals in Kantha Bopha, which treat around 80% of all children living in Cambodia.

In Laos, the space for citizens’ involvement in public affairs is a challenge. Switzerland provides more opportunities for Lao CSOs to engage in the country development processes, and to collaborate with the National Assembly in bringing local experience, lessons learned and citizen’s voice.

At regional level, Switzerland contributes to improved land governance which remains at the centre of development challenges. Indeed land expropriation is a key driver of new poverty and food insecurity. The programme creates an opportunity for improvements in policies and practices regarding land tenure security for smallholder farmers.

Good governance

Inclusive Economic Development

Switzerland’s support aims to ensure that people have access to higher quality employment and income opportunities and become more resilient to economic crises.

In Cambodia, the key challenge is to create decent and productive employment opportunities for new entrants to the labour market. With its contribution to the UN Joint Programme on Youth Employment, Switzerland enables young people to acquire skills and have access to good-quality education and employment while promoting decent working conditions.

In Laos, tourism is the sector with the highest potential to create jobs for the poor. Switzerland supports young people in acquiring the skills needed to work in hotels and restaurants through a dual cooperative training programme.

Labour migration is a key poverty reduction and economic development strategy for jobless people in the Mekong region. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 3 million regular migrant workers from neighbouring countries remain in Thailand, with approximately 400,000 of them out of work, while hundreds of thousands have returned back home. Switzerland ensures that women and men migrant workers from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar in Thailand as well as returning migrants have enhanced decent employment and improved livelihoods..

Basic education and vocational skills development


  • Swiss partners: Helvetas Intercooperation, Swisscontact, the Centre for Development and Environment (University of Bern), the Kantha Bopha Foundation, Swiss Red Cross, GiZ
  • Ministries and provincial/district authorities
  • Local and international NGOs: WWF, PIC, GIZ, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, OXFAM, PC Asia
  • Regional partners: International Organization for Migration (IOM), The Center for People and Forests, Mekong River Commission, Land Equity International
  • Bilateral donors: Germany, Nordic countries, the EU and other donors
  • Multilateral organisations: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Organisation for Migration, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Labour Organization (ILO) and other organisations

Current projects

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VTESS, Phase 3

01.12.2023 - 30.11.2027

The exit phase of VTESS will further promote an inclusive vocational skills development (VSD) system in Lao PDR. Within the current context of economic crisis, early school leavers from disadvantaged backgrounds will thereby benefit from improved and labour market relevant training, employment support services and a sustainable funding model for VSD.

Fondation Kantha Bopha – Dr med. Beat Richner

01.01.2023 - 31.12.2027

Switzerland has supported the Kanta Bopha Hospitals since 1995. Today they have become of systemic importance in the Cambodian health system, and provide comprehensive pediatric services to 8 out of 10 severely sick children in Cambodia. In this last phase, Switzerland will support the Hospitals setting up a system to sustainably access health care reimbursements through social health insurance. In parallel the core financial contribution is phased out.

STAF - Skills for Tourism and Agriculture and Forestry

01.01.2023 - 31.12.2027

Switzerland, Luxembourg and the European Union are joining hands to reform the TVET sector together with the Government of Laos to increase the employability and income of the Lao people. Switzerland’s long-term experience in poverty reduction, vocational training and private sector engagement will support youth to access improved vocational skills development and reach employment through stronger employment service delivery.

Enhancing Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and Investments (3EI)

01.01.2023 - 31.12.2027

“Enhancing Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and Investments” is an initiative co-implemented by the Cambodian government’s entity Khmer Enterprise and Swisscontact, with financial and technical support from Switzerland (SDC and University of St. Gallen), Korea, and a Japanese foundation. The project aims to strengthen small and growing businesses in their mission to foster sustainable development through innovations and investments by the private sector.

Mine Clearance

01.01.2023 - 31.12.2025

Switzerland’s contribution to HALO Trust allows to clear 5.4 km2 of heavily mined land in the northwest provinces of Cambodia, benefitting 9,800 poor households by providing safe access to land and water sources. In its last phase, it supports the Cambodian government in achieving its goal to becoming a mine-free country by 2025. SDC coordinates with the Cambodia Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority to monitor community land use and ownership after mine clearance.

Community Action for Sustainable Forests

01.08.2022 - 31.12.2028

Building on SDC`s long-term experience in forest management this project contributes to Switzerland’s engagement on climate change. Together with UN agencies and NGOs, forest sector governance will be strengthened and community forest group members’ livelihoods will be improved. Forest degradation will be reduced by sustainable management of community forests in four provinces, leading to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to Cambodia’s Nationally Determined Contributions and the Agenda 2030.

Nurture - Nurturing climate resilience in Cambodia

01.02.2022 - 31.12.2026

Switzerland and the Swiss NGOs HEKS and Caritas, in cooperation with the Ministries of Agriculture and of Water, support smallholder farmers and their communities with Swiss expertise on sustainable water resource management, increased social accountability for climate change adaptation and disaster risk management and diversified incomes using agro-ecological production. Some 70,500 men and women in four provinces highly vulnerable to climate change and disasters will benefit.  

LURAS - Lao Upland Rural Advisory Services

01.12.2021 - 30.11.2025

Laos is an agriculture-based country in transition. Farmers in the Northern region require additional knowledge, skills and access to resources to organize themselves within the ongoing agricultural socio-economic changes. Switzerland’s expertise in inclusive economic development, climate change and environment will support rural advisory services during this final phase to sustainably stimulate climate resilient and lasting improvements in agricultural production and income generation for these farmers.

PROMISE - Poverty Reduction Through Safe Migration, Skills Development and Enhanced Job Placement in Cambodia, Laos PDR, Myanmar and Thailand

01.09.2021 - 31.08.2025

Labour migration is a key poverty reduction and economic development strategy for jobless people in the Mekong region. The last phase of this regional programme will focus on the sustainability and upscaling of support to migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to access skills development and decent employment in Thailand and when returning home. Switzerland addresses their needs with a regional approach together with the International Organisation for Migration, governments and the private sector by strengthening regional and national policies and systems.

Improved Service Delivery (ISD)

01.06.2021 - 31.12.2025

Switzerland and Germany jointly support a project on “Improved Service Delivery for Citizens” in three provinces of Cambodia, implemented by GIZ. The project aims to improve access to equitable and inclusive public services for all citizens, including vulnerable people, in the target provinces, while contributing to Cambodia’s socio-economic development. Besides funding, Switzerland makes use of its longstanding experience in decentralised governance and service delivery.

Stimulating Participation and Civic Engagement

01.05.2021 - 31.12.2024

The project empowers Cambodian youth to engage in public life, while shifting negative norms and attitudes around youth participation. BBC Media Action creates inclusive on- and offline spaces for civic engagement, encourages a dialogue of youth and decision-makers and strengthens the provision of media for youth. Switzerland’s expertise in civic engagement will be coupled with BBC Media Action’s know-how in media production and complemented with outreach work by three local organisations.

Dam Safety Technical and Institutional Assistance in Lao PDR (DSTIA)

01.05.2021 - 31.03.2026

Following the Swiss support to the Nationwide Emergency Dam Safety Inspection, the Lao Government requested a longer-term Swiss support in strengthening the national dam safety regulatory and institutional frameworks. By increasing government’s law enforcement and technical capacities to international standards, the project will ensure better protection for downstream communities, estimated in 1,5 million people, and contribute to safe energy production and the sustainability of infrastructure.

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