Syrian Refugee Crisis: Finding the Funds

The United Nations recently issued its biggest ever humanitarian appeal for Syria. But with signs of donor fatigue setting in, what chance is there for the UN to find the billions of dollars needed to help the many displaced Syrians in Jordan and other host countries in 2015?

As the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year with still no end in sight, aid agencies and regional governments are finding it more difficult to raise the funds needed to deal with the humanitarian crisis that has left tens of thousands dead and displaced millions.

At the close of 2014, only 54 percent of funding was found for the regional refugee response and only 58 percent for Jordan. The brief, but alarming, suspension of World Food Program (WFP) assistance to 1.7 million refugees in December, which was only resumed after an emergency appeal, similarly sparked fears that donor fatigue may have set in.

Meanwhile, the United Nations appealed for a record $8.4 billion late last year to deal with the Syrian crisis in 2015, with $5.5 billion of this earmarked to help refugees across the region in countries like Jordan. Unlike before, the latest UN funding drive aims to combine emergency relief with a more long-term development approach. This strategic shift is laid out in the ‘Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’ (3RP) released by the UN in December and is the first attempt to build resilience amongst refugees and host communities alike. The 3RP is linked to the national response plans of countries in the region, including the ‘Jordan Response Plan’ (JRP), which was also unveiled in December. While the new strategy could bring about many benefits for the Kingdom, looking at the funding challenges of last year it may prove difficult to pull off.

As of December 2014 Syria’s neighbors were hosting over 3.2 million refugees, a number that is growing by 100,000 every month. In Jordan, Syrians now make up 20 percent of the population at 1.4 million, of whom over 620,000 are officially registered refugees. This means that along with Lebanon, Jordan now has the highest per capita ratio of refugees worldwide, with the majority of Syrians residing in host communities alongside Jordanians. This significant increase in population has placed a huge burden on already struggling public infrastructure and services, such as transport, health, and education.

Demand up, supply down

Since refugees began fleeing Syria with the onset of the conflict in 2011, donors have contributed more than $4.3 billion to successive regional response plans. While this contribution is no doubt significant, it has fallen way short of the funds requested to sufficiently respond to the crisis.

What’s more, UNHCR Representative to Jordan Andrew Harper said demand for funding was rising as supply was dropping. “In 2015 the vulnerability of refugees is becoming greater and, at the same time, international support is becoming less,” he said.

In Jordan, 73 percent of the required funds for 2013 were received, yet this dropped to 58 percent in 2014. These numbers don’t bode well for the year ahead and the 3RP’s request for $5.5 billion to deal with refugees is more than the total sum donated since the crisis began.

Harper explained that one of the reasons 2014 was such a challenging year for refugee response efforts was because of the many crises around the world. “We’re dealing with a multitude of competing crises which also deserve support,” he said, noting the Ebola epidemic, Gaza war, and Ukraine conflict among them. But even without these crises in 2013, international funding wasn’t enough.

Challenges of 2014

Over 2014 the funding shortfalls have had a tangible impact on relief efforts. The WFP announcement in December that it was forced to suspend food assistance to Syrian refugees living in host communities was a near disaster. In the end, they were bailed out by pledges from individuals and donor countries at the last minute. Jonathan Campbell, emergency coordinator for the WFP, said that the situation was so serious that even members of his staff offered to contribute portions of their salaries to the appeal, which needed to raise $64 million to fund the regional program for December alone.

According to Campbell, it has become increasingly challenging to raise funds, and as a result, Syrian refugees are suffering the consequences. “They know it’s getting more difficult. They’re seeing entitlements that they had before disappear,” he said, adding that without sufficient support he believes many will be forced to either look for work — even though prohibited by law — or go back to Syria. With its high unemployment levels, Jordan can’t afford the extra competition on the labor market. While Syrians risk their lives if they return home.

Funding issues have also had a significant impact on the ability of host governments to provide services to refugees. At the end of 2014, the Jordanian government scaled back its healthcare support to Syrians, who had previously received free treatment like Jordanians who are covered by insurance. At a conference in December, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Health Daifallah Lozi said Jordan’s health system is one of the most affected by the refugee crisis, and had provided 1.33 million Syrians with public health services since 2011.

Other public institutions in Jordan are also struggling to provide services to refugees at the same time as Jordanians. For instance, the public education system is severely over-stretched, with over 120,000 Syrian children enrolled across the Kingdom and a further 8,000 on waiting lists. To cope with this overcrowding the Ministry of Education has introduced double-shift schedules in 98 public schools and has hired over 7,000 additional teachers. But despite these efforts, nearly 70,000 Syrian children remain out of school. Not only is the lack of funding for education reducing its overall quality, impacting Jordanians too, but Campbell says the consequences for the children missing out are huge. “There’s a very worrying long-term impact. If kids are not going to school … it doesn’t necessarily have an impact today or tomorrow, but what does it mean for that generation?”

If sufficient funds are not found to meet the needs of the crisis, Harper said that this means that people are going to miss out. “If an agency doesn’t receive funding then it can’t provide the services that it’s expected to. It’s not that we can conjure up money out of nothing,” he said.

Support provided by the Jordanian government may also be scaled back further if enough funding is not found. The Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Ibrahim Saif announced at a meeting with representatives of donor countries and international agencies in December that while Jordan hopes to continue its support to Syrians, this depends on the finances available. “We would like to stress Jordan’s commitment to protecting and providing all that it can to our Syrian brothers and guests, and unless a major increase in the support provided by donors is secured, Jordan will not be able to sustain the same level of support for Syrians,” he warned.

The new strategy

From the experiences over the last year it is plainly clear, as the 3RP report states, that: “Traditional humanitarian assistance is no longer enough.” The 3RP describes itself as a paradigm shift in the response to the crisis, which aims to provide a new aid architecture by bringing together almost 200 partners, including governments, UN agencies, and national and international NGOs from both the humanitarian relief and development fields. The plan also states that international financial institutions and the private sector are being brought in to address the massive structural impact of the crisis.

Similarly Jordan’s national plan, the JRP, seeks to provide a sustainable solution by strengthening the country’s national systems and services to build resilience in host communities that are impacted by the crisis, at the same time as providing emergency relief to refugees. The JRP is requesting $889 million to support refugees, $956 million for resilience, and an extra $1.1 billion for direct budget support to cope with the additional financial obligations and income losses resulting from hosting the refugees.

While the new strategy couldn’t come at a better time, finding the necessary funds to finance it will be a challenge. However, probably the most important detail of the 3RP and the JRP, which gives the strategy a chance of success, is the inclusion of development aid on top of emergency aid. This not only provides the response with a much-needed longer-term approach, but it also opens up new funding sources. Campbell believes that framing the response as less about emergency assistance and more about resilience-building could tap into funding from other donors. “If you look at the humanitarian and development funding around the world, the development funding budgets are much bigger than the humanitarian funding budgets,” he said.

Whatever the case, it’s clear that in order to make the new strategy a success, additional funding must be found. Harper believes that the international community must step up its efforts to meet the growing short and long-term needs. “We’re going to have refugees here for years to come and the investment from the international community needs to not be limited to six months or 12 months, but it needs to be a longer-term commitment,” he stressed. “We should not be expecting a country like Jordan, which has already borne so much of the cost, to fill the shortfall.” But as pledges begin coming in for the 2015 appeal, it remains to be seen as to whether enough funds can be found to implement the new strategy as planned.

Originally published at www.venturemagazine.me on February 3, 2015.