UNDP Development Dialogues on Rethinking Fragility

Statement by Najat Rochdi, UN Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon at the

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

One year on from the onset of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Lebanon is still navigating both the public health challenges and the economic impact of the pandemic. The availability of vaccines and the roll out of the national vaccination plan provide some limited optimism for a return to some form of “normalcy”. However, the road to recovery in Lebanon remains uncertain, with the country still struggling with rising infection rates, and only limited access to vaccines.

The long-run effects of the health, education, food, economic, political and social crisis are exceptionally severe and we already witness a breakdown in most of the basic services with health sector saturation, Poverty rates - estimated at more than 55% for 2020 and 25% extremely poor, 20% contraction of the economy in 2020 and 10% more expected in 2021 and Lebanon quickly becoming a middle income and not anymore high middle income country by the end of 2021. Increased inflation and the freefall of the Lebanese currency against the USD are further eroding by 80% people’s purchasing power, seriously aggravating social inequalities and increasing vulnerabilities.  

Unemployment, particularly among youth and women, is steeply rising amid a sharp decrease in financial support to Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and industrialists. Food insecurity and chronic malnutrition are increasingly of concern, with 55 percent of households reporting food shortages and around 30% of children in Lebanon are at risk of chronic malnutrition due to lack of access to food or to an appropriately diversified diet. Lebanon is facing an unprecedented exodus of skilled human capital (1000 doctors and 800 nurses already left) and increased cases of school dropouts and students’ move from private to less equipped public schools. Around 500,000 children are also now completely deprived of education due to closure of schools related to COVID-19 and the lack of internet access in remote areas.

Governance issues are of particular concern sparking daily popular protests, and the internal security situation remains unpredictable with increased reported cases of violence and crimes and increased hate speech amid political polarization and dangerous sectarianization. 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. Gender Equality, has recently suffered from the repercussions of Lebanon’s economic crisis and the COVID19 pandemic as women were found to be the hardest hit by lay-offs and income reduction with less access to cash transfers and social assistance due to legal and social barriers.

The horrendous Beirut port explosions had devastating effects on the city's social, economic, and health infrastructure. Around 160 schools, 6 hospitals and more than 20 clinics were damaged, while 170,000 residents were affected by the partial or complete destruction of their houses. Widespread structural damage was reported at the port and its surrounding commercial and residential neighborhoods, affecting a considerable number of UN staff residencies and causing the death of few of their dependents.

On the very night of the 4th of August Beirut port explosions, the UN sprung into immediate action. An emergency operation cell was quickly activated, and expert relief response teams were deployed in less than 24 hours from the explosions. An UN-coordinated Flash Appeal (FA) was launched only ten days after the blast, to respond to the most urgent protection and humanitarian needs of 300,000 people affected by the explosions.

The pandemic and the port explosion impact have in fact highlighted further the limitations of the current Lebanese economic and social model, and revealed the vulnerabilities deriving from weak governance, insufficient economic diversification and lack of social protection systems in the country.

All these interdependent political, security and socio-economic challenges, the COVID-19 crisis and the multi-faceted hardships facing Lebanon compound broader challenges of conflict, poverty and stability, and undermine previous development efforts.

This uncertainty called on UN system in Lebanon to rethink the way the recovery should be engineered, protect the most vulnerable and avoid similar crisis in the future.

To accelerate the recovery and avoid a lost decade, UN work started right after the Port explosion to develop, with the EU and the WB, a new recovery framework that creates a new way of working, with an HDP nexus approach and in collaboration with the Government, the Donors community, the WB, CSOs and private sector in an inclusive way. The framework also looks to support a further equitable distribution of the growth dividend, address the aspirations of youth, and assimilate additional women into the labor and political forces, provide social protection and expedite the implementation of reforms with the specific design and sequencing to support the country’s stabilization and recovery. As we speak, an independent Oversight Body of CSOs is being established, giving civil society a powerful voice and a substantial oversight and accountability role in Lebanon’s recovery, which reinforces local ownership while taking into account humanitarian principles and conflict sensitivity, to ‘do no harm’ and ‘leave no one behind’.

The 3RF is an 18-month costed response plan that prioritizes what needs to be done to support the recovery and reconstruction of Beirut across various sectors with a conflict sensitive approach. It includes a call to the Government of Lebanon to form a new, fully empowered Government that can take immediate policy actions to enable a people-centered recovery and undertake critical reforms to lead on the recovery and reconstruction.

The 3RF is the result of an inclusive and participatory process that brought together - from the very beginning of the planning process through the implementation – the priorities of the government and line ministries, civil society, the private sector, the academia as well as the broad development and diplomatic community. I must say that it was not an easy and straightforward process. Challenges were there, but we made sure to bring it eventually to light in a proper and participatory way. Its governance body, the 3RF Consultative Group (CG), embodies a groundbreaking new way of working, as it is co-chaired by the PM Government of Lebanon, jointly with Civil Society including private sector associations, the EU and the UN, and ensures transparency and mutual accountability. It provides strategic guidance and monitors the implementation of the 3RF, while ensuring gender balance, equality and inclusion throughout the process.

This morning we had our very first Consultative Group meeting, and I have to say that it was quite impressive to see this level of ownership and unwavering commitment to ensure strategic coordination, harmonization and alignment of resources to the 3RF priorities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the onset of an emergency and particularly within a complex context like Lebanon, a people-centered recovery that focuses on the people and is informed by the people, has proven to be the best approach to ensure a quick, inclusive and equitable response.

This requires firstly to keep the pedal on emergency as needed and to move to scale immediately to recovery, strengthening people and community resilience to the crises’ adverse impacts.

Secondly, integrating key reforms in the overall response.

Thirdly, fostering innovation far from ‘business as usual’.

Fourthly, integrating measures that prepare the groundwork for reconstruction and sustainable development…

Fifthly, operationalizing the Prevention Agenda to prevent relapse into crises and not merely preserve peace and security… and last but not least, implementing the Humanitarian-Development- Nexus for sustainable peace, in everything that we do. UNDP has a vital role in each of those requirements.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Development actors, especially UNDP, play a substantial role in the recovery process. In complex and fragile environments like in Lebanon, peace, development and humanitarian actors must work hand-in-hand to alleviate the compelling needs of the most vulnerable while concurrently rebuilding and strengthening national systems and institutions at all levels.

This takes an across pillars and mandates to join up forces, leveraging the full expertise, knowledge, tools and resources of the whole UNCT, to come up with a common context and situation analysis to get a common understanding of the pressing needs & priorities, major challenges and inherent risks. Ultimately, to work together, in a coherent way and develop joint responses that ensures that “No One Is Left Behind”.

Strong coordination between humanitarian, development and peace actors and with Partners is a MUST.

Donors equally play a substantial role in this process as to avoiding or bridging gaps existing between the humanitarian, development and peace responses, by providing agile, flexible and multi-year funding that incentivizes and maximizes synergies between the three-pronged HDP nexus.

Allow me now to dwell on the key lessons drawn from the management of crisis response and the recovery policy and practice.

Preparedness is key to a swift management and response to crises! Contingency planning is an important element to ensure an effective and efficient crisis response in highly fragile and volatile contexts. Readiness is equally important to ensure a rapid emergency scale up of UN entities’ support to critical assistance.

Coordination, but not only, working together, co-creating with partners is of utmost importance to ensure a harmonized, synchronized and consistent response, from the onset of the crises through the assessment of the crisis’ impacts, to the modelling of the response as well as its planning and management. This is particularly relevant to the Lebanon’s Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (3RF) that saw the light following a Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment that was closely coordinated and co-implemented in record time by the UN, the EU and the WB to help support an evidence-based recovery planning based on a “Building Back Better” approach.

Securing strong, strategic and multi-stakeholder partnerships are critical in the recovery process. Capitalizing on eexisting and opening new space  for partnerships with IFIs, donors, NGOs, the diaspora and the private sector have proven to be of great assets to a rapid, transparent and effective crisis response.

Adopting a flexible funding and programming is another important step towards a successful recovery. Repurposing our existing resources and ongoing development initiatives in support of the response are crucial for the provision of rapid and life-saving assistance, rapidly adapting to the changing situation of the country as a MUST.

LNOB needs viable data and statistics. We need to broker data collection to prepare our response.

Finally, we need to ensure a breakthrough on transparency and accountability throughout the recovery process with strong monitoring systems.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

UN repeatedly conveyed the message to the Partners that now is the time to prime the process of recovery with agility and preparedness toward a future that leaves no one behind.

As such, the backbone of 3RF is about the actions to be taken collectively, collaboratively and concurrently. It’s “an embrace of opportunity”—mindful of the country’s fragility.

It will require from the government courage and political willingness to go ahead with the reforms and for UN to be realistic in its planning, with a clear value proposition and to work together with all the partners to define a new era of solidarity, sustainability and inclusion.

It is the only path to better days and to support Lebanon to recover and build back better.

Thank you

UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Development Programme