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Beirut donor conference expected in November

Syrian refugees receive aid in Zahle, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Lebanon is expected to host a donor conference in November as the government seeks to secure additional aid to weather the increasing economic burden resulting from the influx of Syrian refugees to the country, a source told The Daily Star.

In a recent assessment of the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon, the World Bank said the conflict was weighing heavily on the country in economic, demographic and socials terms, cutting Lebanon’s real GDP growth by 2.9 percentage points each year.

The report, which was prepared at the request of the Lebanese government and presented on the sidelines of a Sept. 25 meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, was aimed at paving the way for the establishment a Multi-Donor Trust Fund to address Lebanon’s needs.

The source said discussions between Lebanese officials and donor countries were still underway but that no progress had been made yet regarding the establishment of an MDTF under the supervision of the World Bank.

The source added that donor countries had yet to commit any significant aid to Lebanon, with follow-up discussions expected to take place in November at a donor conference.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Relief and other U.N. agencies, the number of refugees from the Syrian conflict in Lebanon stood at 914,000, or nearly 21 percent of the country’s population up to August of this year.

The World Bank report said the number of Syrian-conflict refugees could swell to 1.3 million by the end of 2013 if the conflict continues.

The report estimated that the cost of the health, education and social safety net was between $308 million to $340 million while $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion would be needed for stabilization.

Despite the rising influx of refugees, the Lebanese government has yet to secure resources to implement a comprehensive plan to meet increasing needs, particularly in the health and education sectors.

Priority issues that the government needs to tackle include increasing unemployment, an expected doubling in the number of students and the growing danger of communicable diseases.

The World Bank report forecasts an unemployment rate of 20 percent in 2014 with an additional 220,000-324,000 Lebanese, primarily unskilled youth to become unemployed.

The conflict had depressed government revenue collection by some $1.5 billion while increasing state expenditures by $1.1 billion due to the surge in demand for public services, bringing the total fiscal impact to $2.6 billion.

President Michael Sleiman held talks with U.S. officials in New York in a bid to help Lebanon reduce the cost of aiding and sheltering the Syrian refugees.

Lebanon has repeatedly said that it no longer can endure the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees to the country and some politicians have even asked that some of these refugees be transferred to other countries.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 01, 2013, on page 5.

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