Ten-Year Programme Ends after Supporting Reforms and Changing Lives in Bulgaria
November 14 (BTA) - Thousands of tonnes of pesticides produced before 1990 have been sitting for years in warehouses across the country posing a health hazard to people and the environment. Now 4,300 t will be repackaged and shipped for safe disposal in incinerators in France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. It is one of many project implemented thanks to the Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Programme, which is coming to an end ten years after its start.
During these ten years, the Programme has supported more than 120 initiatives and key reforms in Bulgaria in areas as diverse as law enforcement, environmental protection, education, farming and healthcare, reaching thousands of people in almost all municipalities. Some of the projects have gained much publicity thanks to their nationwide scope (such as the DOMINO project for phasing in dual education in Bulgaria) or the large group of people they have impacted (such as the ZOV programme for broader access to education and health for marginalized communities). But even the smallest of programmes (such as the opening of an orthopedic plant in the southern town of Stara Zagora) has been life-changing for many people.
The Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Programme had a total budget of CHF 76 million. Partnering public institutions co-financed projects with 15 per cent and non-governmental organizations with 10 per cent. The programme supported 93 projects and 22 doctoral students and post-doctoral visits. The largest project is for the disposal of obsolete pesticides.
Ambassador Muriel Berset Kohen of Switzerland describes the programme as an accomplishment because of the success stories of thousands of people, be it a family in a Roma neighbourhood or a farmer in a remote village. She says the programme is among the small donor programmes in Bulgaria, but of good quality: "just like Swiss watches, it's not the size which counts most, but the quality!". Asked by BTA to pick a single project that she sees as the most successful, Ambassador Berset Kohen explains there are many but one that is probably best recognized at all levels is DOMINO. "It created a legitimate replicable model for learning while working, taking the Swiss expertise and adjusting it to the local needs".
In terms of impact on the local community, Ambassador Berset Kohen says the ZOV Programme stands out, with twenty-eight newly built or refurbished kindergartens, schools, educational and health centres available for thousands of people in some of the poorest neighbourhoods.
As for the project with the biggest impact on national level, her pick is the pesticides project. "It is the largest in terms of budget allocation (CHF 24 million), solves an outstanding environmental problem in over one-hundred Bulgarian municipalities at once," the diplomat says.
She remembers that few projects had to be abandoned already in the design phase - like one on helicopter emergency medical services, and others could not fit into the initially foreseen timeframe and had to be extended, such as the "Green Public Procurement project. "Operational flexibility - tuned to the needs - is a distinctive feature of the programme," the Ambassador says.
She believes that initiatives which are socially grounded, economically feasible and environmentally friendly have the chance to last. "A small but ample (and delicious) example is the Wednesday Farmers' Market in front of the Ministry of Agriculture in Sofia. More than two years after the formal end of the For the Balkan and the People project, the market is there for the benefit of the city and the close-to-nature farmers. I love their products!" Ambassador Kohen says.
She gives credit to municipal authorities for their support and assistance. "Although capacities were not always present, good will prevailed. Civil Society organizations and civic initiatives, more than seventy NGOs got supported under the programme, especially where demands could not find a response by the state or by municipal authorities".
She also praises the National Coordination Unit of the Programme (NCU), placed within the Bulgarian Council of Ministers' administration, and says it has been an important success factor for setting up the Programme and essential in materializing many of its policy aspects.
Ambassador Berset Kohen makes it clear that there are no immediate plans for extending the programme in any form. "The ownership of the projects is by the Bulgarian people and I would be glad and even proud if they find ways to develop them further with the same quality or even better!" she adds.
She also says that a proposal of a second contribution of Switzerland to thirteen EU countries is currently pending at the Swiss Parliament and they have to decide about it, taking into account the current stage of our relationships with the European Union.
Meeting Thursday for one final programme-wide event, representatives of state institutions, beneficiaries and other donors will be holding a conference to present the impact and lessons learned from the past ten years of work. Ambassador Kohen and Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev will be there to speak to the participants together with dual education apprentices, Roma health mediators, teachers, farmers, businesses and NGOs. Representatives of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) and State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) will join the discussions, as well as meeting with people in Sliven, where the ZOV Programme (Health and Education for All) worked for the Roma's inclusion, and visit pilot centres for hazardous household waste across the country.LN/