‘Relief now, development later’ approach won’t work in Syria, UN development chief warns

9 November 2015

The head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today said the traditional response to crises of relief first and development later “is not tenable” in a protracted crisis like Syria, where the conflict is now well into its fifth year, and urged all actors to be engaged at the earliest stage in restoring basic services and supporting livelihoods.

“The nature, scale, and length of the crisis means that developmental responses which aim to build the resilience of people and communities are needed alongside humanitarian responses,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said in her opening speech, ‘Resilience-based Approaches to the Syria Crisis,’ at the two-day Resilience Development Forum, convened by UNDP and hosted by the Government of Jordan on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan.

“A resilience-based approach to the Syria crisis will also hold important lessons for responding to crises elsewhere – including in Yemen, Libya, and beyond,” Miss Clark told the Forum.

Her agency brought together key humanitarian and development stakeholders, including UN agencies; international financial institutions; donors; non-governmental organizations, and the private sector alongside senior representatives of governments in the immediate sub-region affected by the Syria crisis, to collectively consider a new vision of the response to the protracted crisis.

Also attending the Forum was UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, whose agency today reported that Syrians made up more than half of the 788,007 refugees and migrants who crossed the Mediterranean for so far this year.

“The insecurity generated by the crisis has reversed years of development gains in Syria, and made it harder for the neighbours most impacted to move ahead,” Miss Clark noted.

With 13.5 million people in urgent need of assistance inside Syria; four out of five Syrians are living below the poverty line; 6.5 million people are displaced inside Syria; and more than 4 million people having fled to neighbouring countries, “the traditional response to crises of relief first and development later when those needs are met is not tenable in this protracted crisis,” she said.

“Indeed this situation leads us to a much broader reflection on how humanitarian and development actors should work together,” Ms. Clark said. “At the earliest stage, development actors must be engaged to support livelihoods and independence and to restore basic services.”

“In the UN system, we have championed a resilience-based approach to the Syria crisis – with development support complementing humanitarian support. It’s not a question of either/or – both are needed,” said Miss Clark, explaining that this approach aims to support people, communities, and local institutions and services to cope with the adverse impacts of the crisis, and to recover, wherever possible, the basic qualities of life which are essential for human dignity.

“It aims to strengthen the capacities of people and institutions, so that they can sustain their recovery and “build back better” as conditions allow them to do so.”

The UNDP Administrator said the resilience agenda which emerges from this forum must generate a renewed sense of purpose and urgency around how to improve our collective response to the Syria crisis.

“But an agenda will only be as good as the commitment it generates to put the approach into practice much more widely in order to touch as many lives as we can,” she said.

“While we await outcomes of the renewed international will to address the Syria crisis, we must collectively commit to more effective responses for people and their communities within Syria and the neighbourhood,” she said. “Resilience-based approaches will make a big difference to coping capacities now, and to the capacity for recovery when the conflict ends.”


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