The United Nations: A scaled-up “Development Response” to the Syria crisis is critical, now
Amman, 2 November 2013- Regional Directors and Representatives of over 20 United Nations (UN) agencies started meetings today in Amman to discuss means to harmonize UN responses to the Syria crisis.
The Regional United Nations Development Group convened the meetings in response to a growing consensus within the international community that, when considered within its immediate sub-regional context of impact (Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt), the Syria crisis urgently requires a robust development response of scale to complement humanitarian and refugee responses already underway.
The intense conflict has destroyed the social, economic, and political fabric of the country and led to a serious impact in human losses and massive population displacements within and outside of Syria. Over the past 12 months the number of people fleeing Syria into neighboring countries increased nine folds from around 240,000 to over two million, and it continues to rise.
The impact of the conflict has become regional in scope. Almost 97 percent of Syria’s refugees are hosted in the immediate surrounding region. Countries that host the largest number of Syrian refugees are Lebanon (around one million); Jordan (over 600,000); Iraq (490,000); and Turkey (220,000).
The spillover of the crisis into its four neighboring countries is impacting considerably economic and human development outcomes in those countries at the national and local levels. Key sectors including investment, tourism, trade and local production are affected at varying levels of intensity. The crisis also is raising concerns over possibilities of triggering tensions between refugees and local populations in those countries.
“We have reached an important tipping point, where the scale and prolongation of a conflict that is now into its third year, with no signs of abating, have begun to compromise development gains in host countries,” said Sima Bahous, Chair of the Regional United Nations Development Group and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States at the United Nations Development Programme. “There is accumulating evidence that human development and growth trends are declining and levels of vulnerabilities increasing.”
Recent impact assessments in the two countries most affected by the crisis—Lebanon and Jordan—raise concerns that the crisis may be seriously compounding the deterioration of their economies, which were already under stress, with direct impact on incomes and poverty levels especially among the most vulnerable populations.
A joint World Bank – United Nations assessment in Lebanon estimates that over the period of 2012- 2014, the Syrian conflict may cut real GDP growth by 2.9 percentage points annually, leading to a cumulative loss in wages, profits, taxes and investment of up to US$7.5 billion. The number of Lebanese who are living in extreme poverty could rise from 1 million to 1.17 million and the unemployment rate could double to above 20 percent.
Official assessments in Jordan indicate that the government has incurred over US$251 million during 2012 to provide and maintain services and basic needs of Syrian refuges and estimate that additional costs needed to continue hosting them may reach US$1.68 billion, excluding the additional costs for the camps. This burden has stifled efforts to recover economic growth in the Kingdom of Jordan from its lowest point in six years immediately before the onset of crisis—2.3 percent in 2010 down from 8.15 percent in 2005. Over the period 2010-2013, around 30,000 more people joined the ranks of the unemployed, raising the national unemployment rate from 12.7 percent to 13.1 percent.
The continuing and fast growing numbers of refugees is stretching the capacities of countries to provide basic services with significant implications for human development outcomes. Intense competition between the local populations and refugees for access to basic resources such as land, water, housing, health, education, and employment has heightened community tensions.
Meetings of the Regional United Nations Development Group will continue over two days and are expected to conclude with an articulation of a “development response,” to the Syria crisis in its immediate sub-regional context and means to operationalize this response.
“A comprehensive development response to complement our humanitarian efforts in Syria and its neighbors is overdue. We are determined to change that.” said Sima Bahous. “We are addressing this critical task in this meeting with urgency.”
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