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The Reconstruction Momentum in the Middle East: What’s Being Done?

by Diana Zeidan, PhD Candidate in Development Studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS)

Published: December 6, 2017

This is Part I of a three-part series examining post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This first post will review the state of affairs while the next two will explore the policy challenges and long-term implications for the international community.

Assistance for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation is Highly Needed

The many conflicts in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have produced many significant and negative impacts. There are vast waves of displacement, dramatically aggravating the refugee crisis that started after the invasion of Iraq. This has put enormous strains on infrastructure and service provision of the neighbouring countries. The persistence of conflicts has kept refugees in a situation of extreme vulnerability and dependence on aid from the international community.

Fortunately, there are a number of active reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts underway.  Each of the region’s war-torn countries is characterized by unique political and socio-economic conditions, with varying degrees of human casualties, physical destruction and foreign military involvement. This presents a colossal challenge for donors in assessing the complexity of the conflict aftermath, the post-conflict settlement needs, and the sustainability of the interventions. (Please note: all figures are USD, unless otherwise specified).

What are the Current Realities?

Iraq: In July 2016, the Pledging Conference in Support of Iraq took place in Washington, D.C. and was co-hosted by the Canada, United States, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, and Kuwait. Over $2 billion were pledged by 26 countries. In 2016, The IMF has approved a three-year, $5.34 Billion loan for Iraq focused on implementing economic and financial policies to help the country cope with lower oil prices and ensure debt sustainability. A reconstruction conference is also planned to take place in Kuwait in 2018.

Syria: International aid and reconstruction pledges have been made as of 2015, starting with Syria’s political allies. In 2015, a Russian trade delegation announced that “Russian companies would lead Syria’s postwar reconstruction”. That visit set the stage for contracts believed to be valued at USD 1 billion; Iran has also shown interest in Syrian reconstruction. In August 2017, the Chinese government hosted the “First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects,” during which a Chinese-Arab business group announced a $2 billion commitment from the government for the construction of industrial parks in Syria. The Jordanian government sponsored an international reconstruction conference, “Syria ReBuild 2017”. Lebanon is expanding Tripoli’s port hoping the reconstruction will generate the need for a large influx of construction materials.

There is an increasing post-conflict support for Syria and the region through the “Supporting the future of Syria and the Region” conferences hosted in Europe, which raised over $11 billion. The funding will be directed to the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), and the ICRC Syria Crisis appeals.

Libya: The main development assistance to Libya has been channeled through the Stabilization Facility for Libya ($32.3 million), which focuses on local governance. Libya is also benefiting from the Middle East and North Africa Transition Fund, an initiative of the G7 Deauville Partnership as well as the IMF Regional Capacity Development Initiative to support democratic elections and the Libyan government’s recovery.

Jordan In June 2017, the Jordanian government published a comprehensive national response to the Syrian crisis, with the primary goal of turning the crisis into an opportunity for development. The Jordan Response Plan 2017-2019 sets the total cost for response interventions at $7.642 billion for three years.

Lebanon In 2017, the Lebanese government unveiled The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017-2020 that is a joint, multi-year plan between the Government of Lebanon and its international and national partners. The Plan proposes a $2.8 billion appeal for direct humanitarian assistance and services protection for 3.1 million people as well as invest in Lebanon’s infrastructure, economy and public institutions. This represents an increase of 10 percent from the 2016 appeal, a consequence of the increase in population targeted due to worsened vulnerabilities across different population groups.

How Does Canada Compare to Other Donors?

Canada’s international assistance to the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Yemen) reached approximately CAD$300 million in 2016 (about 6.63% of all international assistance provided by Canada). This represents a drop of about 6.2% from 2015. Most of the international assistance channelled to this region mainly took shape of post-conflict assistance notably, to address the post-ISIS situation in Iraq and in relation to the Syrian conflict and its repercussions for the region. Concurrently, Libya received approximately CAD$2 million in 2016 and CAD$3.2 million in 2015.

At the 2016 Pledging Conference in Support of Iraq (total pledges of USD$2 billion), Canada announced a contribution of CAD$158 million. Canada’s contribution to the UN Funding Facility for Iraq amounted to 1.5% of total contributions, while Germany contributed 17%, the UAE 14.2 %, the Netherlands 6.65%, and the USA 27.3%. In March 2017, Canada announced that it will provide an additional CAD$28 million to address the immediate needs of the population and allow civilians to return to territory liberated from ISIS. In comparison to pledges made by other donors including G7 countries, the European Commission, Norway and Netherlands in 2016, Canada’s contribution was among the lowest ones, along those of France and Italy.

At the 2017 “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference, Canada’s pledge increased significantly to CAD$342.3 million, which represents an increase of 342% from the previous amount. Canada’s pledge was the fifth largest, after Germany, EC, UK, and US (Figure 1). France, Italy, and Japan did, however, invest USD$53.7 million, USD$248.1 million, and USD$1 billion respectively into loans, in addition to their funding pledges.

Figure 1: Funding Pledges for Syria and the MENA Region, by Donor

Canada has made only modest contributions to other reconstruction programs. For instance:

  • The Middle East and North Africa Transition Fund (funding to strengthen their governance and foster sustainable and inclusive economic growth): Canada contributed $19.8 million (8.2% of the total budget), whereas the UK contributed 21.2% and the US 16.6%.
  • The Global Concessional Financing Facility (set up in 2016 to provide concessional financing to middle-income countries affected by refugee crises): Canada pledged $15.2 million (4.2% of the total budget), whereas the UK and Germany pledged 11.8% and 6.4 % respectively.
  • The Stabilization Facility for Libya, Canada contributed USD$1.1 million (3.5 % of the total budget), whereas Germany contributed 32.9% and the USA 12.35%.

Policy Challenges

As these reconstruction efforts unfold, Canada faces several policy challenges, but also leadership and profile opportunities. These merit more attention and analysis.

Investment:  Canada is currently playing a modest role in post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction in the MENA region. Investing in reconstruction will have significant returns for Canada’s role and diplomatic influence regionally and internationally. Given the importance of agriculture and rural infrastructure for poverty reduction, Canada’s investment in production capacities could also facilitate trade opportunities.

Strategy: In order to be an international player, Canada needs a comprehensive long-term strategy for its involvement in post-conflict reconstruction in the MENA region. Until this date, Canada’s response has been mainly to improve the living conditions and “resilience” of the most vulnerable populations, refugees in particular. Converting short term programs into long term commitments is one of the biggest policy challenges.

Governance: There are competing models of interventions for post-conflict reconstruction in the MENA region between reconstruction projects as commercial opportunities, and more traditional, services-oriented development assistance. This tension between models raises the important question on how reconstruction programmes could contribute to ‘normalizing’ authoritarian regimes in the region.

In future blog posts on reconstruction in the MENA region, we will examine how this difference in approach poses serious governance and transparency challenges, particularly in terms of social and geographical justice.

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