Jordan responds to the economic impact of the Syrian refugee crisis, but is mitigating the effects possible?
Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in massive numbers since 2011 (File Archive/AFP)
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This month, Jordan will take part in the international pledging conference for Syria, to take place in Kuwait, and will present its “National Resilience Plan”, detailing how the country is addressing the challenges related to the impact of the massive influx of Syrian refugees on the host communities.
Close to 600,000, Syrians who took refuge in Jordan now account for nearly 10 per cent of Jordan’s population. Most of them (80 per cent) live in urban and rural communities across the country, and not in camps.
Coming at a most challenging economic period for the Kingdom, the sheer number has placed a critical pressure on the country’s social, economic, institutional and natural resources.
Increased competition for access to public utilities, schooling, health services, infrastructure and jobs is not only straining the budget, government services and families, but also poses threats to social cohesion and peace.
This argument may not be new, but it is now well supported by detailed assessments and analyses of the impact of the spillover of the Syrian crisis on the Kingdom in the recently completed document “Needs Assessment Review of the Impact of the Syrian Crisis on Jordan [NAR]”.
NAR indicates that the impact of the Syrian crisis on Jordan has manifested in three different but interrelated manners: increased pressure on public finance, worsened trade deficit and losses to key economic sectors; exacerbated vulnerabilities for the poorest segments of the Jordanian population; deteriorated access to quality basic services in the most affected governorates.
Given the fragile fiscal position of the government budget over the past three years — rising public deficit and debt — the government has had to reallocate scarce capital to meet the sudden and growing demands necessitated by the Syrian crisis.
Overall, the Central Bank of Jordan estimates that the impact of the Syrian crisis will have reduced Jordan’s GDP growth by 2 percentage points in 2013, reducing growth to 3-3.5 per cent.
This may threaten not only to derail the development trajectory of Jordan, but also to stunt economic growth and development for years to come, especially if the situation in Syria persists.
The spillover effects of the Syrian crisis are taking a heavy toll on Jordanians, especially on the most vulnerable segments of the population in the northern part of the country, where over half of Syrian refugees currently reside.
With a 25 per cent decline in agricultural exports to Syria and a 30 per cent decline in imports, the crisis has also led to losses of livelihoods in agriculture and food trade.
The provision of social services has also suffered as a result of the crisis, as pre-existing pressures are exacerbated as a result of increased demand.
Countrywide, 41 per cent of Jordanian public schools are now crowded, against 36 per cent in 2011. About 80 schools had to work double shifts in order to enroll over 85,000 Syrian children (excluding camps) — of an estimated 150,000 eligible for enrollment.
The Syrian refugee influx has also overwhelmed the capacity of an already under-resourced public healthcare system to deliver quality services to all. The increased caseload has pushed the healthcare financing system close to breaking point.
The existing supply of housing is not able to meet demand, in particular for lower-income groups. Increased demand has inflated rental prices up to 200 per cent, with extremes at 300 per cent in some areas, compared to pre-crisis values.
Additionally, municipal service delivery capacity is overstretched and development control has become increasingly difficult. Growth of informal settlements has exacerbated shortfalls in maintenance and building of roads.
As the crisis continues, it is likely that Jordan will witness more flows of refugees.
UNHCR estimates that by the end of 2014, over 800,000 Syrian refugees will have crossed the border into the country.
Host communities, services and infrastructure will soon reach their absorption capacities. In some areas, these thresholds have been stretched to breaking, whilst in others they have already been exceeded.
The Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation initiated the NAR at the Host Community Support Platform meeting in September 2013.
It was undertaken in coordination with all relevant line ministries and provides the basis for Jordan’s National Resilience Plan — a three-year programme of high-priority investments required to address impacts of the crisis, as detailed above, in health; education; water and sanitation; livelihood and employment; municipal services; energy; housing; and social protection.
Failure of the international community to support Jordan with the burden of financing these investments will undoubtedly jeopardise hard-won development gains achieved over decades.
Through this National Resilience Plan, Jordan is appealing to the international community, at this particular point in time, to increase the level of aid to its national and local institutions and communities to mitigate the adverse consequences of the Syria conflict.
This will complement the generous humanitarian support being provided. It will also enable Jordan to take greater responsibility for the planning, implementation and management of response interventions designed for its own host communities.
By Ibrahim Saif
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