BEIRUT: In his first visit to Lebanon, the president of the World Bank spoke Tuesday of finding hope and maintaining optimism amid the terrible suffering in Lebanon and the region due to the Syrian civil war.
“It is extraordinarily difficult to feel optimism in the shadow of the catastrophe unfolding in Syria,” Jim Yong Kim told Lebanese youth in a speech at the Education Ministry. “It is larger than anything most of us have witnessed.”
Kim earlier in the day visited a social services center in Burj Hammoud and spoke of the strain placed on Lebanon and the Lebanese people by the more than a million registered Syrian refugees. But in his speech Tuesday afternoon, he beseeched the youths not to give up hope for their future – holding out the example of post-war Europe’s experience.
“It’s important for us to remember that Europe’s economic output in 1951 was 35 percent higher than before the war,” he said. “We know that it’s possible to build back better, even after the most devastating conflicts.”
Despite the sense that the Syrian civil war, now in its four year and estimated to have killed more than 200,000 people and displaced millions, is intractable and likely to continue into the foreseeable future, Kim insisted that the world must begin planning the recovery for when it does end.
“No one knows how or when this war will end – and sadly there are no signs of it ending anytime soon,” Kim said. “But this is exactly the right time for us to prepare for the peace that surely will come.”
Kim earlier in the day attended a donor conference in Beirut, where he supported Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s call for urgent international aid to assist Lebanon deal with the repercussions of the Syrian refugee crisis.
“The international community, including the World Bank Group, the United Nations, and key donors, must put together a plan that will help not only Syria rebuild, but also will help Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq recover from the massive spillover effects of the war,” Kim reiterated in his afternoon speech.
The World Bank president called on politicians to recognize the value of the region’s youth and enact policies to unleash their potential in rebuilding struggling economies. Sympathizing with frustrations against the lack of reform and progress in many regional economies, Kim insisted that governments must be held accountable for the lack of progress and citizens must be involved in setting the future course.
“Development is a partnership that requires a commitment to transparency on the part of governments, and well-informed citizens to hold governments accountable,” he said. “Development and peace are inseparable. For Syria, and for Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, this process of preparing for peace, jobs, and opportunities for the next generation will not be easy.”