Jordan hopes donor nations will honour promises
Amman - Cash-strapped Jordan wants to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars it was promised at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference February 4th in London partly on projects that would create jobs for Syrian refugees.
The remainder would go to infrastructure projects, boosting Jordan’s coffers and on assisting local communities that have literally been breaking bread with the 1.3 million Syrians the kingdom hosts.
“It is the beginning of a journey,” Jordanian Planning Minister Imad Fakhoury said, referring to Jordan’s plans. He described the promised aid as a “positive breakthrough”, adding that Jordan would “fight aggressively” to ensure the funds are dispersed properly.
Finding jobs for the Syrians and spending to meet their needs in host communities will discourage refugees from trying to get to Europe, said Jordanian economist Hani Hourani. “Donor nations went by calculated steps. They’re not just throwing money at the region,” Hourani said.
Some $11 billion in aid to Syrians was pledged by the London conference. It was the largest amount of money raised in a single day for a humanitarian crisis, British Prime Minister David Cameron said.
With Syria’s 5-year-old civil war still raging and another attempt at peace negotiations called off in Geneva, the donor conference sought to address the needs of about 6 million people displaced within Syria and more than 4 million refugees in other countries.
Turkey is hosting more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees. Jordan and Lebanon are the other countries bearing the brunt of the Syrian exodus.
Jordan has put its schools and health clinics at the disposal of Syrians, who have been taking jobs that some Jordanians complain could be theirs. Social welfare agencies have spent 55% of their $80 million budgets, which are usually disbursed fully on Jordanians, on Syrian refugees.
The addition of 1.3 million refugees has helped stretched Jordan’s meagre resources to the point that power outages are frequent and water rationing more stringent.
With scant natural resources and total dependency on foreign aid, Jordan says it has spent $6.6 billion on Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian crisis in March 2011.
A higher energy bill and the upkeep of four Syrian refugee camps hiked Jordan’s budget deficit to $2.5 billion, five times more than pre- 2011 figures. Its foreign debt is estimated at $30 billion, about triple the figure of 2010. Although unemployment was officially set at 13.8% in the last quarter of 2015, unofficial estimates put it at more than 30%.
In an impromptu news conference on February 8th, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said Jordan “succeeded in attracting the attention of the international community to the burdens Jordanians have borne due to the influx of Syrian refugees”.
He said the conference adopted Jordan’s “holistic approach” to the Syrian refugees, which envisages spending on the Syrians and their host communities.
He said Jordan will draw up programmes to provide more economic opportunities for both Jordanians and Syrians.
Fakhoury said at the conference that Jordan’s holistic approach was based on three components.
The first is to shore up Jordan’s cash reserves to enable spending on local communities. He said that donors pledged $700 million a year for three years starting in 2016 to develop services and infrastructure in the health, education, water and municipal sectors.
A second is to address the state deficit. Fakhoury said donors pledged concessionary loans worth $1.9 billion a year through 2018. The loans will bear a less than 1% interest rate with a grace period of at least seven years. Repayment is to be made in 25 annual instalments.
He said the loans were cheaper than borrowing from local banks, which will reduce pressure on Jordan’s public debt and help “bring it back to safe levels”.
In addition to soft loans, Fakhoury said donors vowed to extend grants to Jordan worth $900 million over three years.
The third component of the plan is to streamline Syrian labour in Jordan by attracting investment to five development zones across the country, he said. That would enable the creation of jobs for both Jordanians and Syrians, whose status will soon be legalised. Many Syrians had been working without permits.
To boost that plan, the European Union agreed to simplify procedures to allow in more Jordanian exports in the next 10 years, Fakhoury noted. He said the step will generate investments and create jobs.
Annual Jordanian exports to the European Union amount to $200 million, while imports exceed $3 billion.