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No money mo’ problems

Aid donations for Syrian refugees are on the decline

by Jeremy Arbid

Less than 50 percent of the funding needed to help Syrian refugees in 2015 was pledged at the third Kuwait donor conference in late March. The concern is that the dismal response to the pledge drive will further erode the basic life services refugees receive, while need continues to increase as humanitarian aid dwindles. Lebanon, already struggling under the weight of its refugee crisis, risks further economic decline and security instability.

The government could only bury its head in the sand for so long — the downward trend in available aid has forced Lebanon to shift its approach. Where once the government took a backseat in responding to its refugee crisis, it now is taking the lead with support from the United Nations via the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan (LCRP), first introduced in December 2014.

Those fleeing the brutal war in neighboring Syria have boosted the population of Lebanon, according to LCRP estimates, to nearly 5.9 million, and over half (3.3 million) are in need of humanitarian aid or economic recovery support. The international aid response has not kept pace with the increasing number of those in need — the nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees both registered and not, 313,000 Palestinian refugees, as well as 1.5 million vulnerable Lebanese. The refugee crisis has also strained the country’s economic and security stability, and the government, via the LCRP, has finally recognized this crisis as a reality.

[pullquote]“Lebanon today is facing an existential threat”[/pullquote]

“Lebanon today is facing an existential threat — it is no longer a refugee crisis, it is a Lebanese one with everyone affected — both the Syrians and Lebanese are affected,” says Hala Helou, an advisor to the Ministry of Social Affairs — the government agency coordinating the LCRP. It is, she says, a comprehensive integrated plan that does not differentiate between the humanitarian and developmental needs for Lebanon.

“Everybody sees this as a protracted situation and nobody is expecting [it to end soon],” Helou says, adding that the expectation is that funding for the refugee crisis, at some point in the not too distant future, will dry up. “We as a government would be left with 1.5 million Syrians in addition to 4 million Lebanese and 400,000 Palestinians with no support whatsoever and we would have to rely on our own resources that are already very weak to tend to these people — supporting our services right now would be the best solution for the future,” she says.

Where’s the money?

Beyond addressing the humanitarian needs of the vulnerable population, Helou says the LCRP will maintain services to prevent further destabilization in the country. The number of poor in Lebanon, she says, has risen dramatically since 2011, by nearly two thirds, while unemployment has doubled. “In these four years, poverty has increased drastically in the country creating certain instances of extremism — whether with the Lebanese or with Syrians — and for us the only way we can protect our youth is to provide for them in a certain way which is not humanitarian assistance — not giving them food or shelter — rather it is by creating jobs and helping them become productive and have some income.” The plan, she acknowledges, is not a long term solution, but rather one to maintain some sort of security and stability.

In 2013, according to the UN-OCHA’s donation tracking website, 72 percent of Lebanon’s total requests received funding, totaling $1.2 billion; the region-wide appeal that year was also one of largest responses in UN history. Last year — Helou says Lebanon was the second funding priority following Syria after the Kuwait donor conference — requests for the country rose to $1.5 billion but only 61 percent of the requests were funded. This year, the total appeal to address the region wide refugee crisis reached $8.4 billion — with Lebanon requesting $2.1 billion — but the pledging result of $3.8 billion at the Kuwait conference, held in late March, suggests less than 50 percent of the region’s request might be funded. Lebanon’s received funding through mid April has reached just over $300 million, 15 percent of the need, and promises at the Kuwait conference, Helou says, must turn into commitments, the distribution of which is not yet decided or at least not yet publicly available.

Daniel Gorevan, Syria crisis policy lead for Oxfam International, a humanitarian organization addressing refugee needs in Lebanon and the region, also acknowledges that funding is not increasing at the same level that need is increasing. “The scale of humanitarian need is rising at a much greater pace with more displaced — hundreds of thousands upon millions of refugees. The main problem is that funding increases are not keeping pace with the rapid increases of people that are in need of assistance,” in Lebanon and neighboring countries he says.

[pullquote]“It is everybody’s responsibility and nobody’s”[/pullquote]

Oxfam published its 2015 fair share report showing the level of funding each country makes available to the humanitarian response in contrast to their gross national products (GNP), while also noting the number of Syrian refugees countries resettle. Gorevan says the reasons behind publishing the fair share report is to develop an accountability mechanism for UN appeals. “It is everybody’s responsibility and nobody’s, so the reason we breakdown the ability of countries to pay based upon their GNP was we could be more specific about who is contributing and who is failing,” he says.

According to that fair share report, in 2014 three of the world’s wealthiest countries, as a measure of their GNP, contributed at or above 90 percent of what is their country’s fair share to the Syrian refugee appeal — the United States contributed $1.7 billion (97 percent of its fair share), Germany contributed $425 million (111 percent), and the United Kingdom $432 million (166 percent) — to the region wide Syrian refugee appeal. But not every wealthy country paid its fair share — Russia contributed only $46 million (7 percent of its fair share), Japan $149 million (29 percent) and France $154 million (57 percent). However, the fair share report doesn’t consider donor priorities across humanitarian appeals, only pledges to the Syrian one.

Aiding the host community

Gorevan also points out that Oxfam’s fair share report emphasizes the view that the international community’s funding of the UN appeals — for life saving assistance — is the bare minimum of what they can do. “We are also calling for bilateral and multilateral donors to [recognize] the broader challenges countries are facing in hosting so many refugees. In Lebanon [the presence of] over 1 million refugees obviously places a huge strain on health services and water infrastructure, schools and all the other services in the country. We’re asking for these economic aid packages to benefit both refugees and host communities in the services they provide and the jobs that they create.”

That, says the ministry’s Helou, is the shift in addressing refugee needs that the LCRP represents: it is a decision by the government to articulate how to maintain services to refugees rather than the mixed and overlapping priorities of the UN and NGOs. The preferred option for donors, she says, has been to fund the UN and NGOs directly based on their own priorities, which are not always the Lebanese government’s. Helou notes that the government, through the LCRP, is “agreeing with the donors and the UN that there needs to be a shift where, even if the funding is going directly to the UN without any role for the government, [funding must] be in line with the priorities of the government.” She specifies that the $2.14 billion plan targets the most vulnerable Syrian refugees and poorest Lebanese to provide food, shelter and other basic material needs while, at the same time, the plan invests in institutions and organizations that strengthen delivery of services to support Lebanon’s stabilization. The LCRP, Helou explains, also includes longer term projects to be undertaken by different ministries and the Council for Development and Reconstruction that would help develop infrastructure and calls on more investment for Lebanon and its economy. This is to, for example, “create more job opportunities for Lebanese youth while allowing Syrians to benefit from certain jobs where the law allows them to work,” she adds. Helou goes on to explain that the Lebanese government needs to “think long term because this is a protracted situation and the Syrians might be staying in Lebanon — [we need to be able] to maintain living conditions for the refugees [and] take care of the Lebanese too,” she concludes.

[pullquote]For Lebanon the indicated decline in funding will, predictably, be disastrous for the country and refugees specifically[/pullquote]

The trend in funding the region’s refugee appeals appear to be on the decline. Other crises like last year’s Ebola outbreak or the more recent conflict in Yemen, say both Helou and Gorevan, have increased demand on donors’ aid budgets while the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis continues to increase. “When Ukraine happened most of the European money was rechanneled,” Helou says.

For Lebanon the indicated decline in funding will, predictably, be disastrous for the country and refugees specifically. Gorevan says Lebanon will see a deepening of the dynamics witnessed last year: “Less assistance for less refugees, smaller rations and more targeting. The practical implications of that — which we’re already hearing — is confusion as to why this is happening, and increased desperation of the refugees.”

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Jeremy Arbid

Jeremy Arbid is an energy and public affairs analyst specializing in Lebanon’s oil and gas industry. He was formerly a journalist covering economics and government policy for Executive Magazine in Beirut. His experience includes roles as a policy specialist in Chicago and with the United Nations in Geneva. Jeremy holds a Master's in Public Administration from the American University of Beirut and a Bachelor's in Political Science from Hamline University.

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