UN-DESA virtual webinar "From Recovery to Sustainable Development: National Webinar on Integrated Recovery Policies toward the SDGs in Lebanon"
Opening Remarks by the UN Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rochdi
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking UN-DESA and all those involved in bringing us together today.
As everyone knows, Lebanon is facing multiple structural challenges to achieving the SDGs by the year 2030, and the clock is ticking!
While countries are busy responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lebanon finds itself grappling with additional serious and interdependent crises, including the economic and financial meltdown, the disastrous impact of the Beirut port explosions and the refugees’ crisis, to name a few. The situation is rapidly spiraling out of control, and Lebanon’s stability is shaken to the core!
As much as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development constitutes our roadmap for the Lebanon we want and desperately need, and despite limited progress on few SDGs, we have not seen the transformative change that this Agenda requires… and Lebanon has unfortunately regressed since 2018.
While the country had committed to the achievement of the SDGs by forming the “SDGs National Committee” and presenting its first “Voluntary National Report” in 2018, a preliminary analysis conducted in early 2020 showed that Lebanon’s progress towards the Global Goals has deteriorated or has remained unchanged for almost all of the Goals.
Alarmingly, poverty rates - estimated at more than 55% for 2020- are expected to rise even further this year … Increased inflation and depreciation risk to further erode people’s purchasing power and life savings, seriously aggravating social inequalities …. Unemployment is steeply rising amid a sharp decrease in financial support to Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and industrialists … The healthcare system is under immense pressure to cover up much-needed material and human resources amid the deepening COVID-19 crisis … Lebanon’s human capital is eroding due to increased cases of school drop-outs and students’ move from private to less equipped public schools … Governance issues are becoming weaker, and the internal security situation remains unpredictable with increased reported cases of violence and crimes ... Environment-related goals seem to be forgotten at a time when Lebanon is facing an acute environmental degradation and the world is edging closer to the point of no return amid a serious climate emergency.
The path towards the realization of the SDGs has been clearly disrupted in Lebanon! But we, as the main crafters and advocates of the Global Goals, cannot stand still. We must step up to stamp out poverty, inequality, corruption and bad governance, and fight injustices.
That’s why refocusing our priorities towards a promising trajectory of recovery and development shall require colossal planning, close coordination, effective implementation, smart financing, and most importantly a stronger political will and high-level buy-in.
As the Secretary-General has mentioned on several occasions, “Business as Usual is no longer an option”. And this is more relevant in Lebanon than anywhere else, where people’s “resilience” has been tested to the limit and is no longer valid, where their living conditions have become untenable!
We surely have a shared responsibility, an obligation, towards the people of Lebanon to critically reflect on our coordinated support to this country and the impact of this multidimensional support. That’s why, we are revisiting our UN contribution in Lebanon to ensure targeted and coherent response to the issues at hand.
Of course, the SDGs remain our overarching vision for a sustainable future for all that ‘leaves no one behind’, but all our response plans - be it the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP), the COVID-19 response, the UN Strategic Framework (UNSF) or the recently launched Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (3RF) – they feed into each other and put people at the heart of the responses, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized.
In parallel, the UN Country Team has supported the Lebanese Government in developing the ‘National Sustainable Development Strategy’ that was launched back in October 2019, just before the popular protests. It is being currently updated to account for the emerging socio-economic and political developments and ensure strong linkages with the existing planning frameworks that will help reinforce the 2030 Agenda and embed the SDGs in public policies and plans.
But our work is far from done, and we still have a long way to go, an endless list of actions to take to bring back Lebanon on track. You will hear more on this front from my colleagues, the heads of UN entities who are present with us today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we move forward, Governments must lead the way, working hand in hand with stakeholders from the UN, to civil society, the private sector, donors and beyond, to address the key policy challenges that lay ahead.
I see many looming threats in our midst that require our coordinated efforts for integrated recovery plans … and I see five requirements by all of us, to help push Lebanon’s progress towards the SDGs and the long-awaited development prospects.
The first necessity is to optimize cooperation and partnerships among all stakeholders to better respond to the current daunting challenges and help achieve the SDGs by the set deadline. Without this cooperation, Lebanon will not be able to make it on its own.
Second, we must roll-out a comprehensive social protection strategy that seeks to provide immediate and sustained assistance to the most vulnerable and lay the basis for a sustainable and rights-based social protection framework.
Thirdly, we must keep a close eye on Businesses… The multi-faceted crises that ravaged the country have had a devastating effect on the private sector, pushing many small businesses to a financial collapse, many entrepreneurs to deprivation. Supporting the private sector is one of the key pillars to reverse the current breakdown in the country’s developmental trajectory, and an economic plan that is capable to develop Lebanon’s productive sectors is crucial.
The fourth prerequisite is to exhibit the required commitment towards a people-centered financial plan. Little can be done without the roll-out of the Government’s 2019 financial recovery plan, and Lebanon is in dire need of liquidity, through an IMF program. But I have mentioned and reiterated in many instances that this will only happen if key reforms, including governance-enhancing measures, are adopted and put in place.
The fifth and most urging requirement is to speed up the implementation of the 3RF, to ensure that the 3RF flagship priorities and programs that we are currently designing with the European Union and the World Bank are delivered through a well-coordinated recovery and reconstruction effort, with the active engagement of all stakeholders and the steady support of the international community.
The most urgent priority for us now is to start with the immediate actions required for a people-centered recovery. Winter and rains are here, small businesses are unable to access finance to restock and recover, poverty levels are escalating further. That’s why we continue to highlight to the international community that the supporting and financing of the 3RF ‘people-centered’ recovery track must come quickly, and it must come without conditions!
We need to get resources directly in the hands of people…. They deserve to live in dignity, to enjoy their basic human rights. It is a moral imperative and in everyone’s interests!
Across Lebanon, people are expressing their frustration and distress around vital issues that are central to the SDGs: corruption, governance, poverty, inequality, violence against women, environmental violations and I pass the rest.
Our ‘One UN’ work, which combines the efforts of 25 UN entities along with public and private partners, is an opportunity but also a huge challenge before us to respond to people’s concerns and to bring the SDGs roadmap back to life in a country that is enduring a lot.
It may be our last opportunity to set Lebanon on the path towards the Global Goals... So, we must do it now, as swiftly as possible, because people no longer have patience.
So, let’s make 2021 a year of urgency to meet the dire needs and legitimate rights of the people of Lebanon.