International community galvanizes support for Lebanon

25 Sep 2013

imageTomato and potato soup being cooked at Qah Camp for displaced Syrians on December 12, 2012. PHOTO: JODI HILTON/IRIN

New York – The Syria crisis will cost Lebanon $7.5 billion in economic losses by the end of next year, according to a joint report prepared by the World Bank, the United Nations and the Government of Lebanon discussed at today’s inaugural meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon. The meeting was chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The report, which includes analysis by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other UN agencies, provides the clearest assessment yet of the challenge facing Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor on the Mediterranean Sea.

It estimates that the crisis in Syria and resulting wave of refugees into Lebanon will likely cut real GDP growth by nearly three percent a year between 2012 to 2014, and may double unemployment to above 20 percent while deepening the country’s deficit by US$2.6 billion.

At today’s meeting the international community galvanized a broad commitment to help Lebanon cope with this crisis by expanding humanitarian, military and development aid to the country.

The meeting brought together the President of Lebanon, Michel Sleiman, with ministers of donor countries including China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, along with the European Union and agencies including the World Bank, UNHCR and UNDP.

“The creation of this International Support Group signals the international community’s commitment to Lebanon’s stability and to the country’s policy of disassociation from regional conflicts,” said the Secretary-General.

The meeting comes at a time when UNDP is scaling up its support on the ground for Lebanese authorities and communities.

A key initiative for providing immediate relief is UNDP’s US$21.5m Lebanon Stabilization and Recovery Programme, which is helping the Ministry of Social Affairs create jobs, stabilize the economy and maintain social cohesion through community-based initiatives that bring together local authorities, civil society and the private sector.

“This meeting is a message of international political and moral support to Lebanon during these difficult circumstances,” said Michel Sleiman, President of Lebanon.

Additionally UNDP is supporting the national government, municipalities and civil society to work together in conflict mitigation and dispute resolution.

The report’s chapter on human development and the social impact, based on contributions from UNDP, highlighted that by the end of 2014, some 170,000 more Lebanese may be driven into poverty, and that as many as 324,000 Lebanese – mainly unskilled youth – will be forced into unemployment.

The health sector is also severely strained.  A recent survey showed that some 40 per cent of primary health visits are for  Syrian refugees. Already stretched health systems have been strained to keep up with increasing demand, resulting in a sharp rise in communicable disease, the emergence of new diseases not present in Lebanon before, and an increasing risk of epidemic.

Having accommodated 40,000 refugee children, the public school system is under similar stress. As UNDP and sister agencies point out in the chapter on social cohesion, impacts are also contributing to social tensions among Lebanese and refugee communities and aggravating gender relations. Maintaining and promoting social cohesion is of paramount importance at this time.

“The strains on Lebanon’s social services cannot be overestimated—the needs are great and growing quickly with every passing day. Host communities need to be supported alongside the urgent needs of the refugees in order to prevent further tensions over scarce resources,” said Rebeca Grynspan, Associate Administrator of UNDP. “UNDP stands strongly with Lebanon at this difficult time to act as a bridge between the humanitarian action and the emerging development needs.”

UNDP’s newly launched programme for recovery and stabilization has received an early $2m in funding from partner countries, leaving a budget gap of $19.5m to be filled. Hopes are high that today’s meeting will galvanize additional support from the international community, and UNDP is planning additional outreach to partners in the weeks to come.

“The time to act in Lebanon is now,” said Sima Bahous, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States. “Support from partners for stabilization and recovery in Lebanon has never been as important as it is today.”