What the international community can do right now on Syria | Sima Bahous

13 Jan 2014

Syria Crisis Syrian refugees participate in SGBV awareness event at Kawrgosk Camp in Erbil, Iraq. Photo: Sarah Chardonnens/UNDP Iraq

The tragic images of death, destruction, and suffering continue to pour out of Syria as the conflict nears the three-year mark.  

More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed so far, with 6.5 million people now displaced from their homes by fighting. But Syria's plight is not just one of humanitarian suffering that will end when hostilities cease.

With more than 50 percent of Syria’s population now living in poverty, this is a crisis that will have long-term implications for development. Ravaged infrastructure, collapsed services, economic disintegration and rampant unemployment — all a direct toll of the fighting — have now rolled back Syria’s development levels by at least 35 years.  

More than 2.3 million Syrians have already sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt. Refugees now make up approximately 10 percent of Jordan’s population and 20 percent of all people living in Lebanon. This influx is changing the demographic balance in host countries and local communities, which threatens to stoke social tensions and increase competition for already-scarce resources such as land, water and jobs. The potential for instability is great.

This Wednesday, the international community will meet in Kuwait to discuss financing for work underway to mitigate the Syria crisis.

To prevent the conflict from sowing decades of poverty in the region, the international community must increase support for immediate relief, while also bolstering development efforts focused on strengthening the medium- and longer-term outlook and helping countries impacted by the crisis to return to their development pathways. This is the way to achieve resilience in the face of difficult challenges in this neighborhood. And it is the surest way to prevent this conflict from becoming the first chapter in a chain of recurring violence that will take lives and soak up billions of dollars of international aid for years to come.

At UNDP, we have already started the restoration of development hope in Syria by creating emergency jobs to remove rubble and waste, as well as repair destroyed infrastructure. We have also helped local authorities in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey to deliver education and health services, improve sewage, water treatment and drainage systems.

These steps, however, are just the beginning. Urgent action is required —for example to offer job training for unemployed and vulnerable youth, ensure women are represented in peace-building  processes and employment programs, and to build tolerance and understanding in classrooms across geographical and cultural divides.

We need to act now so that when the guns fall silent and peace prevails, it can be sustained. And that prosperity can follow, not poverty. In Kuwait this Wednesday, with commitment from donors, we have an opportunity to make this a reality.

The Author is Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Arab States.

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