Syria response underfunded, impacting regional stability

By Gustavo Gonzalez 25 June 2015

Young girls walk along a road at an informal settlement for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Neighboring countries Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt host 98 percent of the 4 million Syrian refugees. Photo by: S. Baldwin  / UNHCR / CC BY-NC-ND

At the end of 2014, national and international partners launched the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, or 3RP, to address the most challenging needs of refugees and host communities, as well as the longer-term socio-economic impact from the ongoing crisis in Syria.

As a broad regional platform, the 3RP brings together plans developed under the leadership of the governments of Syria’s neighbors — Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt — which house 98 percent of the 4 million refugees resulting from the crisis.

The 3RP was conceived and planned based on valuable lessons learned from four years of effective humanitarian assistance work in the subregion. It represents an unprecedented shift in the way that the international community responds to a multidimensional crisis.

Neighboring countries have been the first donors in addressing the demographic and economic shock generated by the conflict. The magnitude of the impact has been clearly portrayed by the former Lebanese President Michel Sleiman framing it last year as an “existential” problem, referring to the unprecedented refugee-host population ratio in his country.

A few days ago, Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Imad Fakhoury stressed at the U.N. Economic and Social Council in New York that “the Syrian crisis is not only a refugee issue; it is also a national resilience issue.”

The recognition that we are in front of a humanitarian and a development crisis with an impact on global security has been central to the 3RP. Thus, the integration of humanitarian and development capacities and resources in a single framework, the shifting to a nationally driven planning and implementing process, the inclusion of durable solutions for refugees and host communities, and the opening of a broad regional space for policy dialogue bring a more robust and cost-effective response to a protracted crisis.

By integrating across organizations, 3RP enables one coherent response to the needs of refugee and host communities. By making use of massive quantities of data, 3RP partners have been able to more effectively and efficiently target their services to the most vulnerable. By supporting local service delivery systems that serve both refugees and host communities, 3RP builds lasting national capacity where it is needed. And by strengthening the resilience of countries and communities in the region, 3RP helps to fortify their stability in an unknown future.

As with any crisis response, the success of 3RP also relies on the timely availability of financial resources. Today, a progress report will be launched in Amman, Jordan, detailing the 3RP’s achieved results — as well as the severe challenges it faces due to a lack of funding.

The original 3RP funding appeal stated the need for $4.53 billion for U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations to achieve its stated goals. However, so far U.N. agencies and NGOs have received just $1.06 billion — falling 77 percent short of this appeal by $3.47 billion.

Without further funding, the 3RP programs currently providing education for 576,000 Syrian refugee schoolchildren will be discontinued. Food vouchers held by 1.6 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt will continue to buy less and less — even though their value has already decreased 30 percent since the start of this year. And as of April, less than 10 percent of 3RP’s targets for increasing access to livelihoods and social cohesion have been met as a direct result of underfunding.

Why is 3RP so underfunded? Given the dangers of instability posed by a failure to act, why has the international community not contributed sufficiently to these endeavors so far?

Jan Egeland — head of the Norwegian Refugee Council — recently pointed out that the resources requested for the Syria crisis are very little in comparison with those required for military campaigns in Afghanistan or Iraq or for bailing out a few banks. Beyond its provocative tone, this statement calls for enhanced international solidarity to address one of the most complex and challenging contemporary crises.

A few days ago, Amnesty International described the global refugee crisis as a combination of persecution and conflict among Syrians and the neglect of the international community for human suffering. This is only partially true because part of the crisis also lies in the manifest inadequacy of international mechanisms to prevent and resolve conflicts, an aspect that has been recently highlighted by the High-Level Independent Panel on U.N. Peace Operations.

We all know that regional response plans — beyond their attractiveness — will never replace the effectiveness of a political solution in Syria — but if the international community cannot provide the latter then it has an undeniable responsibility to support the former.

The development community is becoming more active and engaged. The World Bank is already making efforts to overcome bottlenecks that prevent middle-income countries — like the ones affected by the Syria crisis — from benefiting from extra-concessional loans and grants. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is advocating for innovative ways of attracting private investment in infrastructure in refugee and host communities. And the U.N. Development Program is leading the organization of a Resilience Development Forum to bring together leaders from government, the international community, civil society, think tanks and the private sector to adapt the prevailing aid architecture and mobilize more development capacities, technology and resources.

To ensure a better future for Syrian refugees, their hosts and the world, we call upon the international community to embrace the dynamic response necessary for this crisis. UNDP and all 3RP implementation partners stand ready to continue the close dialogue with host governments and the international community toward this aim.

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About the author

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Gustavo Gonzalez

For more than 20 years, Gustavo has been working in crisis and post-crisis settings, on behalf of a range of international and U.N. organizations. He was appointed UNDP subregional development coordinator, covering Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan in November 2013. He heads UNDP’s Sub-Regional Facility for the Development Response to the Syrian Crisis located in Amman.


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