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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Five of the biggest challenges facing Switzerland right now

It might be rich and officially neutral, but that doesn't mean that Switzerland is immune to the problems facing Europe, from the effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine to the climate crisis. These are the main challenges for the country right now.

Five of the biggest challenges facing Switzerland right now
Drought is a huge challenge in Switzerland right now. Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels

Many nations are now faced with the political and economic fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And, all things considered, in comparison to its neighbours and countries farther afield, Switzerland is not faring too badly.

Still, the normally sound and stable nation is nevertheless shaken by the events it has no control over as it is looking for immediate as well as longer-term solutions to the emerging challenges.

Energy crisis

This particular situation is multi-faceted since it impacts everything from the price of petrol to availability of natural gas for heating.

Natural gas meets about 15 percent of Switzerland’s energy requirements. It is used mostly for cooking and heating.

Though it buys most of this energy source through various European distribution channels, almost half of Switzerland’s supply — an estimated 47 percent — is of Russian origin. 

“We are not an island, so the war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis also affect Switzerland. In this context, there is no certainty about what awaits us”, said Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga.

There are growing concerns that Switzerland will face power outages this winter and that electricity will become scarce during the coldest months of 2022 and 2023.

The impending shortage would hit harder cities where  lot of homes are heated with gas.

For instance, in Solothurn, 65 percent of residential buildings depend on gas for heating. That proportion is 60 percent in Biel, 55 percent in Lucerne, 51 percent in Zurich, 47 percent in Bern, 46.2 percent in Geneva, and 43 percent in Basel.

READ MORE : MAP: Which Swiss cities will be most impacted by a gas shortage this winter?

Inflation

Switzerland’s inflation is typically lower than the rest of Europe’s and this time it is no different: at 3.4 percent, it is far below the 8.9 percent across the EU.

Still, the higher-than-usual-rate — up from only 0.7 percent at the same time in 2021 — is having repercussions on the already high cost of living; many common products and services, from gasoline and food to transportation, have become even more expensive in the past months.

READ MORE: Cost of living: How you can beat Switzerland’s inflation blues?

Rising prices are also deterring Swiss consumers from making major purchases, according to a new survey by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) carried out in July.

If it continues, this reluctance to spend money would be bad not only for the retail industry, but also for the economy as whole.

Neutrality

Switzerland’s decision in early March to join the international sanctions imposed on Russia incited arguments that such a move was eroding the country’s policy of neutrality.

READ MORE : Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

Since then, there has been an ongoing and often heated debate about the future of Switzerland’s sovereignty and whether the notion of neutrality should be redefined in the changing world.

Some, like the conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP), insist that the long-held tradition should be maintained at all costs, as “for more than 200 years, neutrality has saved us from bloody conflicts and has notably protected us from the horrors of the two world wars”.

Others, however, including Swiss president Ignazio Cassis, say neutrality should be more adaptable to current events — an approach that would allow Switzerland to continue to impose sanctions such as those against Russia and to organise joint military exercises with NATO and the EU on Swiss soil.

In fact, a recent survey of public opinion on foreign, security and defence policy issues shows that, in view of turmoil in Ukraine, an unprecedented 52 percent of residents favour moving Switzerland closer to NATO,

The opposing views will continue to fuel the debate in Switzerland about the future — and feasibility — of neutrality in today’s world.

READ MORE : NATO in, neutrality out: How the Ukraine invasion impacted Switzerland

Labour shortage

Switzerland’s employment market has bounced back well from the Covid pandemic, with many industries looking to hire skilled workers, but not finding them.

Why is this a challenge?

Simply because among the vacant positions are some essential professions that need to be filled quickly.

One case in point is a shortage of nurses.

Nearly all Swiss hospitals report shortage of nursing professionals, totalling about 7,500 vacant posts throughout the country, according to a new report by the employment platform Jobradar.

This clearly is a problem because when there are not enough healthcare professionals, the system can’t function properly. As a result, fewer patients can be treated, and some health establishments have had to postpone outpatient surgeries.

Heatwave, drought and glaciers

These problems are not related to the war in Ukraine as they are of environmental nature, but they raise a number of problems.

The intense and unrelenting (to date) heatwave is damaging to the crucial infrastructure, and lack of rain means that water levels in some of Switzerland’s lakes and rivers are below average values for the season.

The Beznau nuclear plant in Aargau, had to reduce its power recently as the temperature of the river Aare, which powers and cools the plant, is too warm. The maximum power is currently reduced by up to 50 percent.

Antonio Sommavilla, spokesperson for Axpo, Switzerland’s largest producer of renewable energy, indicated that a further power reduction at Beznau, or even the total shutdown of the plant, was possible due to the persistent heat. In such a case, Axpo would have to buy electricity on the international markets, he said.

Continued drought has also repercussions on agriculture, with many crops expected to be literally burned by heat and lack of water.

Railroad tracks are also impacted.

“Persistent temperatures of over 30 degrees can lead to what is known as track warping”, according to report in Swiss tabloid Blick. “Railway tracks expand, deform and become a safety hazard”.

The newspaper added that latest security checks carried out on the tracks have “discovered anomalies”.

The most irreversible damage, however, is wrought on Alpine glaciers.

It is a known fact that glaciers are already melting faster than usually due to global warming, but the most recent heatwave is speeding up this process and creating new challenges.

For instance, shrinking glaciers are shifting borders between Switzerland and Italy, and raising the usual zero-temperature level from just over 3,000 metres to an altitude of nearly 5,000  metres.

READ MORE: Why Switzerland’s glaciers are melting faster than usual this summer
 

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How to avoid wasps this summer in Switzerland

Milder winters and springs mean we see more wasps in Switzerland this summer. Here is how to legally (and successfully) avoid them.

How to avoid wasps this summer in Switzerland

If you feel like you are never alone anymore – because there is always a pesky little wasp around – and the number of nests has grown significantly this summer, this might be the case.

As the planet gets hotter and winters and springs have milder temperatures, there are more wasps than usual buzzing around Europe this summer.

In France, pest control companies even call 2022 the “year of the wasp”, as The Local France reported.

More wasps are buzzing around – and they are angry

There is an abundance of wasps this summer even in Switzerland and they are not exceptionally good-natured right now, according to Daniel Cherix, a leading insect specialist at the University of Lausanne. The more wasps there are, the more in competition they are for food sources — which includes your outdoor barbecue food or bottle of soda.

The hot weather makes it easier for the wasps to work more hours feeding the larvae. However, the longer and harder they work, the more tired and hungrier they become.

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland is abuzz with ‘tired and angry’ wasps

This means that, just like their human counterparts, they need to rest and eat, making a beeline for the nearest food source.

“If there is no prey, they have to fly longer. So they will start to get tired and angry”, Cherix said, which doesn’t bode well for the nearest available human.

This situation is expected to worsen until the autumn; until then, the wasp colonies will continue to get bigger and presumably angrier and more tired.

How can I avoid wasps?

Even though the number of wasps is rising in Switzerland, only two of the nine local wasp species are attracted by human food. Additionally, they are all peaceful as long as you don’t get too close to their nest, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment says.

The government also states several measures that can be taken to avoid wasps. It reiterates, though, that if any of these animals are nearby, it is vital to “behave calmly and not to make hectic movements that could make the wasps feel threatened”.

wasp nest bee hive

Some nests are harmless and shouldn’t be disturbed. (Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash)

Wasps can be kept away by insect screens, covering food and drinks served outside, drinking sweet drinks with a straw when outdoors, and removing and cleaning dishes and food after eating out. The Environment office also recommends removing fallen fruits under fruit trees in the garden to avoid attracting was.

People can also spray individual wasps (but never nests!) with water to get them to fly away.

READ ALSO: Swiss study says bee-harming pesticides present in 75 percent of honey worldwide

To prevent nesting, it’s important to close small openings in and around your house. Wasps like to nest in dark, shelter places, such as attics and any holes in the buildings. Recognising a nest early can help you prevent it from growing and adopt the proper measures – such as calling specialised assistance if necessary.

What to do if I find a wasp nest in my home?

There are specific rules of conduct to be followed if you find a wasp nest, especially since wasps will attack if they feel their nest threatened. Wasps stings are usually harmless unless you are allergic, but they can be painful.

A relocation could be necessary if the nest is near homes with children, allergic people or the elderly. If it is harmless or summer is close to ending, though, many specialists will advise you just to wait it out – wasps will die when it gets cold.

A specialised service needs to be hired if the nest needs to be relocated.

The last resort is to kill the nest using chemicals, but this needs to be done by specialists with federal approval to use such biocides. In some cantons, environmental protection rules forbid using chemicals without a proper license.

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