Helen Clark: Opening speech at Launch of the Report on Lessons Learnt for the Post-Agreement Reconstruction of Syria

Jan 23, 2017

In addition to large scale human suffering, displacement, and death, the ongoing conflict is estimated to have cost Syria $275 billion in lost growth opportunities. Credit: UNDP

I am pleased to welcome you to this launch of UNDP’s report on Lessons Learned for the Post-Agreement Reconstruction of Syria.

This event comes at an opportune moment as we meet here in Helsinki to reconfirm commitments to assist those affected by the devastating conflict in Syria – both within Syria itself and in the neighboring countries.

In addition to large scale human suffering, displacement, and death, the ongoing conflict is estimated to have cost Syria $275 billion in lost growth opportunities.

Traditional industrial and commercial hubs, such as Aleppo and Homs, have been destroyed. The country’s public and economic infrastructure has been severely damaged, and access to essential social services has been dramatically reduced. Sixty nine per cent of people in Syria are now deemed to be living in extreme poverty according to the 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview, and 35 per cent are living in abject poverty.

Syria’s impressive human resources remain, but many people are scattered across the near region and beyond. Many of Syria’s youth have had years without access to formal education or vocational training. Over fifty per cent of the labour force has been pushed into unemployment, with young people particularly hard hit. The crisis in Syria has also had profound negative effects on neighbouring countries.

As long as there is no end to the crisis, reconstruction and recovery at the national level are impossible. Yet it is not too soon to explore how post-agreement reconstruction and recovery could be best supported. That is why UNDP has prepared the report being launched here today.

The Report’s starting point is that post-agreement reconstruction and recovery which are owned and led by Syrians will be essential for consolidating peace and stability, and for effecting longer-term reconciliation. Failed reconstruction and recovery processes increase the likelihood of conflict recurring.

The report acknowledges the critical role of partners in supporting a Syrian-led process. It highlights the leading role in this which the UN System, including the IFIs, is expected to play. UNDP and the UN’s Department of Political Affairs have been leading a UN-wide exercise on the joined-up support the UN could provide in the initial phase of post-agreement reconstruction in Syria.

The report we are launching today does not offer a strategy for post-agreement reconstruction. Rather, it presents a number of lessons learned and good practices related to post-conflict reconstruction and transitions from around the world, which may be relevant to future planning in and for Syria.

A number of key considerations which will impact on post-agreement reconstruction are outlined. For example:

  • Reconstruction may take place alongside continued vital and large-scale humanitarian efforts in nearly every part of Syria. That would pose a number of challenges, and would stretch the capacities of both Syrian and international partners. Effective co-ordination of support and activities will be of the essence.
  • The presence of many factions in Syria will have significant impacts on post-agreement reconstruction. It may be difficult, and even dangerous, for key decision makers to dislodge locally entrenched power holders; yet if that state of affairs persists, it will perpetuate divisions within the country.
  • Supporting the return and reintegration of refugees, which today number over 4.8 million, and the return of over 6.3 million internally displaced people to their home communities will be a major task. Measures would need to be taken to avoid creating, or exacerbating, regional pockets of poverty.

How reconstruction is planned, financed, governed, and monitored will be important. Pooled funding, for example, has proved to be an effective way of managing and optimizing financing available from international partners.

The objective of today’s session is to discuss and share lessons and best practice related to post conflict reconstruction and transitions from around the world. We see this as an initial step on a long journey, but hope that this discussion can make a contribution to the massive task which lies ahead. I hope our panelists will stimulate our thinking on critical questions such as:

  1. What features from post-conflict reconstruction elsewhere are likely to be present in Syria? What are the most important things to consider when planning for post-agreement reconstruction?
  2. How can the challenges posed by the fact that reconstruction and humanitarian activities will be taking place at the same time be navigated?
  3. How will post-agreement reconstruction be financed? How can it be ensured that the likely wide range of sources of financing - including from OECD countries, UN agencies, and international financing institutions (IFIs) alongside Turkey, the Gulf states, Iran, and others – is used in the most efficient and effective manner?

In conclusion, let me stress that post-agreement reconstruction in Syria will be an historically important, large, and complex process. Just as we are committed now to address the needs of those affected by this devastating conflict, it will be incumbent on all partners to continue support for the Syrian people after it has ended.

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