Magazine article Forced Migration Review

The Refugee Crisis in Lebanon and Jordan: The Need for Economic Development Spending

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

The Refugee Crisis in Lebanon and Jordan: The Need for Economic Development Spending

Article excerpt

The entry of Syrian refugees into Lebanon and Jordan has resulted in unprecedented social and economic challenges to both countries. These are felt on a day-to-day basis by all Lebanese and Jordanian citizens whether through higher rents and declining public service availability, or through health and education infrastructure that is stretched beyond its limits. There is no doubt that both host countries have been incredibly generous to refugees, particularly at the societal level. However, the tensions between host communities and refugees within Lebanese society are obvious and in both countries a lot of government and societal discourse about refugees has become palpably resentful.

Even if a meaningful political settlement and ceasefire inside Syria are achieved, the refugees are likely to remain where they are for many years; the crisis therefore requires long-term planning on the part of host governments in collaboration with local civil society and multinational institutions. Specifically, it requires attention to economic development needs, including infrastructure upgrading and job creation, to improve life for all vulnerable populations, refugees and host communities.

The crisis has put a huge strain on the fiscal capacity of both countries so urging more state spending may seem counter-intuitive. However, development spending is justified for several reasons. First, the economies of Lebanon and Jordan were suffering from economic problems beforehand. Second, economic spending will benefit these countries' citizens as well as the Syrian refugees; not spending for fear that it will provide refugees with an incentive to remain will hurt the country's citizens just as much as it hurts refugees. Third, the fact that most of the refugees in both countries are not in camps has created particularly challenging problems as reaching the refugees and serving their needs is even more expensive than it would otherwise be. It also means that across-the-board development spending is the most efficient way to address the humanitarian crisis.

In both Jordan and Lebanon economic challenges preceded the refugee crisis. For example, the annual GDP growth rate dropped from 8.5% to 1.4% in Lebanon and from 5.5% to 2.7% in Jordan between 2009 and 2012. In Lebanon the onset of the Arab uprisings resulted in a reduction in foreign direct investment and a sharp decline in tourism. Flows of natural gas from Egypt to Jordan were sharply reduced through most of 2012 due to sabotage of the pipelines linking the two countries, resulting in increased fuel costs.

However, the economic challenges facing both countries run even deeper. A 2010 UNDP report found that in Jordan from 2006 to 2008 the number of poverty pockets, defined as districts or sub-districts with 25% or more of the population below the national poverty line, had increased from 22 to 32. The same report found that the three most densely populated governorates, Amman, Irbid and Zarqa, contain 57% of the people living under the poverty line. As of early March 2014, 58% of Syria's registered refugees were located in those three governorates. Mafraq governorate - where Za'atari camp and just under 30% of registered Syrian refugees are located - contains the highest incidence of poverty and illiteracy rates in Jordan (along with Ma'an governorate).

The situation in Lebanon is marked by sharper economic and regional inequalities, accompanied by deep social cleavages and sectarian fault lines that have been exacerbated by the Syrian conflict. Sixty per cent of the registered Syrian refugees are in the North and Beka'a Valley regions, that are also the poorest regions in Lebanon. The North region has the lowest per capita expenditure in the country, along with the highest levels of inequality. These two regions have been historically marginalised as reconstruction after the end of the civil war in Lebanon in 1990 saw most wealth flow to the greater Beirut region. …

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