Syria MDG report: the main challenge is environmental degradation

Sep 8, 2010

Syria has made substantive progress on school enrollment and reducing child deaths, according to the country’s recently published third national Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report.

The MDGs are eight internationally-agreed targets which aim to reduce poverty, hunger, maternal and child deaths, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality and environmental degradation by 2015. The MDG reports aim to capture the country’s progress towards the Goals – including highlighting new realities that impact their achievement, challenges and strategic policy interventions needed towards 2015.

Overall, the Syria report finds that the MDGs are achievable. Gains in education, in particular ensuring access to primary education for all, and corresponding enrollment with decreases in the gender gap, have brought Syria on track towards achieving the education and some gender empowerment targets. The report shows that the net enrollment ratio in primary education for the 6-11 age group increased from 95.4 percent in 1990 to 98 percent in 2006, and then to 99 percent in 2008.

Similarly, significant reductions in child mortality rates (infant and under-five) have exceeded specified annual MDG targets at the national level. The under-five mortality rate fell from 41.7 for every 1000 live births in 1993 to 18.9 in 2008. If this trend continues, the MDG target will be met even before 2015. Nevertheless sub-national variations continue, with the north central city of Raqa being particularly off-track.

Likewise, while maternal mortality rates are on the decline nationally, a major challenge remains in the equal distribution of services to reduce geographical disparities. 

The report finds that the country’s main challenge in eradicating extreme poverty is sustainable environmental management. While many different factors define the incidence of poverty in the country, climatic changes resulting from eco-system degradation and the accompanying desertification, have had one of the strongest influences on poverty dynamics.

As with most countries in the Arab region, water resources in Syria are already stretched to their limits. This has serious social and economic consequences, as the country depends on water to produce significant amounts of agricultural commodities for the region, with the sale of wheat, olive oil, livestock, fruits and vegetables contributing to almost 20 percent of GDP. Successive droughts and land deterioration have reduced water availability, negatively affecting agricultural productivity and income levels.

In 2008, Syria experienced its worst drought in 40 years. The country was forced to import wheat for the first time in 20 years, and more than one million jobs in the agricultural sector were affected. 59,000 small farmers lost most of their herds while some 47,000 farmers with larger holdings lost around 50 – 60 percent of their livestock.

The proportion of land suffering from desertification has risen to reach 4 percent of the total land area of Syria, which represents a quarter of the land used to feed livestock in the country. Because rural populations depend on natural resources for their livelihood, this worsening situation has also triggered internal migration shifts contributing to the “urbanization of poverty”, with many of the poor in urban areas often living in slums.

The Syria MDG report also highlights regional disparities as a crosscutting challenge in achieving the Goals, particularly with regard to poverty reduction and the environmental targets.

In order to tackle these interrelated challenges, the report suggests that clear national policies be formulated to address environmental emergencies, reduce environmental pollution and improve disaster risk management. Additionally, there needs to be greater focus on pro-poor rural development policies that empower the poor to participate in the economic sphere, and the involvement of the least developed regions in the broader economic activities of the country.

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