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Lebanon News

Syrian war, refugees cost Lebanon billions

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, flanked by officials and donor country representatives, chairs the meeting on the World Bank report.

BEIRUT: The war in Syria and the influx of nearly 1 million refugees have cost Lebanon billions of dollars, according to a World Bank report.

Figures detailing the financial losses incurred by the refugee influx were detailed in the report, which was discussed during a meeting chaired by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and a group of ambassadors and donor country representatives, relevant ministers, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and World Bank regional director Farid Balhaj.

After the meeting, Abu Faour complained that financial pledges made by the international community had not materialized, at a time when “the Lebanese government is hearing a lot of suggestions, opinions, advice and meaningless statements, with no [meat]. Up to this moment, donations haven’t met even a tiny part of the need.”

Abu Faour said that in the past two years, the Lebanese treasury spent the amount of $1.1 billion to provide refugees with additional services, including education, health, electricity, food and other necessities.

“The estimated increase in expenditure needed to secure services for 4 million Lebanese and 1 million Syrians reached $2.1 billion, he added.

Abu Faour warned that “revenues have shrunk by $1.5 billion, whereas economic losses to Lebanon resulting from the Syrian war are an estimated $7.5 billion.”

“According to World Bank estimates, 170,000 Lebanese citizens will be below the poverty line, and there are 1 million [Lebanese] who are already there. Gross domestic product has shrunk by 2.9 percent annually in the past three years,” according to the World Bank report.

The “shocking figures,” Abu Faour said, were announced as Lebanon was preparing itself for a United Nations meeting in New York next week to discuss the issue of providing assistance to Lebanon to cope with the Syrian refugee influx.

President Michel Sleiman chaired two meetings in Baabda Wednesday to discuss the preparations which are underway for the Sept. 25 conference to be held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting.

The first meeting was attended by Mikati, concerned ministers and security officials.

Discussions focused on measures that Lebanese authorities should take to organize the entry of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

A statement from the president’s office said that the Syrians’ entry to Lebanon should keep international law and humanitarian considerations at heart.

The second meeting was held between Sleiman and the delegation that will accompany him to New York, where topics to be addressed at the conference were discussed.

A separate meeting about the conference was held between caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour and U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly.

The international meeting will likely lead to more assistance for the Army and economy, sources close to Baabda Palace told The Daily Star earlier.

Lebanon is facing difficulties coping with over a million Syrians who have flocked to Lebanon since the outbreak of unrest in their country in March 2011.

More than 700,000 Syrians are receiving aid from the United Nations, although experts believe that the actual refugee figure is considerably higher.

A donor conference convened in Kuwait in January promised financial assistance to countries hosting Syrian refugees, but much of the pledged funding has not materialized.

Lebanese officials also complained that the country’s relief efforts have been overlooked by the international community, as countries directly fund U.N. efforts.

Government officials say Lebanon needs hundreds of millions of dollars to adapt its infrastructure, overwhelmed by the refugee influx, and to provide for new arrivals.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 19, 2013, on page 3.

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