Statements by High Commissioner, 16 December 2013
Geneva, 16 December 2013
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Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
The Emergency Relief Coordinator has just presented the overview of global humanitarian needs, and they are truly alarming. Forced displacement, including a new peak in refugee figures worldwide, is an important part of that picture. Some two million people have been forced into exile during 2013 – the highest number of new arrivals in nearly 20 years. Most of them fled Syria, followed by Sudan and the Central African Republic, where the recent escalation of events forces us to prepare for worse, including along the borders of neighboring countries. Several tens of thousands of refugees each also left Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia during the last 12 months.
The pressure these refugee crises put on host countries and on the humanitarian system has been growing steadily, and it is stretching the limits of all partners involved. The particular challenge we have faced this year, further exacerbating the situation of 2012, is the combination of the huge Syrian refugee outflow with multiple other emergencies, while we also must continue responding to large protracted situations like that of Afghan refugees.
But despite the multiple and pressing needs elsewhere in the world, I will focus here on the Syrian refugee crisis and our response strategy for the year ahead. There are now over 2.3 million Syrians registered as refugees in the region, with governments estimating that the total number has reached 3 million. More than 1.7 million of them arrived in 2013. Based on these arrival trends, we expect the number to rise as high as 4.1 million by the end of next year.
The main reason Syrians have been able to find safety from the violence in their country is the extraordinary generosity of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Syria's neighbors have been saving lives and providing protection, but at enormous cost to their economies and societies, as few refugee influxes have ever generated such a profound impact on their host countries, with such dramatic demographic, economic and social consequences. The fact that Lebanon is now – as a result of the refugee influx – close to reaching the population it was expected to have by the year 2050 illustrates the monumental structural challenges these host countries face.
Addressing the needs of the refugees therefore requires continued massive solidarity from the international community. This has to take into account not only the immediate humanitarian needs, but also increasingly the structural, longer-term development needs which this crisis has created in the host countries. That is why the Syria Regional Response Plan includes not only the expected 4.1 million refugees by end 2014, but also up to 2.7 million members of the host communities, the majority of them in Lebanon and Jordan.
The RRP addresses both the humanitarian dimension and some short-term, immediate-impact projects to foster resilience among both host communities and refugees. The aim is to align the humanitarian response closely with that of development actors and national governments under the several processes that are already being led – or being established – by a number of host governments with the World Bank and UNDP. Both RRP and SHARP will therefore stand in the context of a comprehensive regional strategy.
The Regional Response Plan is the result of a vast joint planning effort involving more than 100 partners and spanning 35 sector working groups in five countries. Since the beginning of August, UN agencies, national and international NGOs have been working in very close consultation with host governments, development actors, donors and of course affected populations themselves to produce this plan and agree on common priorities and strategies. We have kept in close touch throughout the process with our colleagues working on the SHARP for inside Syria to ensure common planning scenarios – while acknowledging that we work with very different operating environments and humanitarian needs.
The requirements for the RRP – some 4.2 billion USD – are prioritized both in time and in scope, taking into account the fluctuating situation inside Syria as well as complementary national and development strategies that are being established across the region. We have therefore presented budgetary needs under a 6+6 month formula, with a thorough revision foreseen in June 2014 to adjust the indicative requirements the Plan currently includes for the second semester. In addition to this, all projects in the RRP fit into one of three categories: saving lives, preventing the deterioration of vulnerabilities, and strengthening capacity and resilience. This categorization aims to facilitate prioritization by agencies and donors, and anticipate a close link with longer-term structural interventions that are still under development.
The RRP priority areas are food assistance (which makes up more than a quarter of the total requirements and targets 3.1 million people), protection (notably access to territory, registration, SGBV prevention and child protection), shelter and WASH, health, education and other basic needs. With the re-emergence of polio more than a decade after its eradication, partners under the RRP aim to vaccinate 21 million people across the five countries. And with an entire generation of Syrian children deprived of the education opportunities and protective environment of a normal childhood, we must do everything we can to allow more refugee children to attend school and to ensure their physical and psychological protection. The more immediate efforts required to prevent "A Lost Generation" are included in the RRP and in the SHARP, with the larger regional strategy of that name foreseeing various funding modalities that will be integrated with structural planning exercises in the neighboring countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The needs we are presenting here today are enormous. And while I hope that the upcoming discussions in Geneva will help pave the way for the situation in Syria to improve, the humanitarian needs will continue to remain very, very high for the foreseeable future.
We are deeply grateful for the extraordinary support donors have provided to refugee activities throughout 2013 – more than 2 billion dollars in total that have allowed the partners engaged in the refugee response to scale up assistance quickly and provide, in recent months, the biggest winterization program ever carried out in a refugee operation. But we all know humanitarian budgets will not be able to sustain such funding levels for the long-term duration of this crisis, especially given the magnitude of humanitarian needs across the world which is being presented here today.
That is why we are working closely with governments, development partners and international financial institutions to better integrate humanitarian needs into the longer-term equation – in the Syria crisis and elsewhere. And that is also why we are making every effort we can to increase cost effectiveness – notably through a significant expansion of cash-based instead of material assistance. Apart from having much lower transactional costs, cash transfers also give refugees more choice, dignity and autonomy, and represent a significant contribution to local economies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have a daunting task before us – one that we can only tackle together with our partners, and with your continued strong support.
Thank you very much.