Philippe Lazzarini, who serves as the resident and humanitarian coordinator and as the UN Development Program (UNDP) resident representative in the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL), took office months ago in the midst of the Syrian crisis, but his main concern is not only the state of emergency imposed by the displacement. He is keen not to lose sight of his duties, not only in terms of coordination, but also in achieving all of the UN activities that can be undertaken to serve this small country.
He said his mandate will be based on two goals: to eliminate the gap and build bridges between the temporary relief operations of the displaced Syrians on the one hand, and to develop long-term plans that ensure decent living standards for the Syrians as well as the host communities, on the other.
Lazzarini believes that handling this crisis based on a state of emergency perspective could put the displaced at risk of losing their sources of livelihood. This indeed happened about a year ago when the World Food Program’s grants stopped due to what was described as donor fatigue.
“This was unmerciful and unfair toward the displaced themselves and the host countries,” Lazzarini said.
A goal he puts forward at international forums is placing Lebanon’s needs among the priorities of the global agenda. Lazzarini explained that the whole world is seeing how Lebanon is coping with the different developments on the economic, social and security levels.
However, Lazzarini personally believes this is dangerous since Lebanon's ability to cope with different situations is bound to fade at some point, and by then it would be too late.
“I will urge the international community to help this country. Waiting around and testing the Lebanese ability to adapt to the situation does not serve anyone’s interests," he said.
He recalled that the UN organizations have been present in Lebanon for over 60 years to help the country overcome internal and external crises, and they continue to do so. He referred to the UNDP’s recent contribution, where it offered Lebanon consultancy services for a solution to its trash crisis.
Although Lazzarini notes Lebanon is fragile in light of the crises in neighboring countries, he believes the country’s stability and economy must be boosted by improving negative indicators.
Lebanon’s plan to respond to the crisis
Lazzarini is pinning all of his hopes on Lebanon’s plan to respond to the crisis — the government had drafted the first version of this plan a year ago and the second version about a month ago — considering it an essential formula that will help Lebanon address the displacement crisis.
He said that with the outbreak of the crisis the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) quickly responded and the international community intervened to provide relief for the displaced, disregarding the needs of the host community. However, as the crisis persisted, it became necessary to address the issue in a more comprehensive manner and through a long-term vision to ensure relief in tandem with the development of the host country.
While some see certain faults in the plan's implementation — especially because the first version only received 50% of the needed financing — Lazzarini believes otherwise. He explained that when the plan was first put forward in 2014, it was launched by the end of that year as a two-year action strategy, but donor companies were asked to provide $2.1 billion to finance the plan for one year.
The plan received $1.1 billion, which is quite a large amount compared with the financing of major crises, according to Lazzarini, who also acknowledged that this amount is not enough to offer relief and to support host communities.
Lazzarini’s optimism about this plan stems from two sources: the first is the dialogue with the government and members of the international community to develop plans to respond to the crisis, and the second is the search for new financing means to support Lebanon, a matter that will be discussed in early February during the donors conference in London, which will focus on the needs of Syria and the surrounding countries as well as long-term support plans. The conference will also discuss Lebanon’s and Jordan’s experiences in terms of education and providing employment opportunities for the displaced.
Optimism, but …
What if the donor fatigue persists? Lazzarini stressed that donor fatigue will no longer exist, especially since Syrians took refuge in Europe and those working for relief organizations will always remind the donor countries that there is no more room for fatigue.
He also pointed out that financing for relief plans had increased when refugees headed to Europe in September, saying, “We always remind donors that the crisis will not end overnight even if a political solution was found. It is necessary to help the displaced to build their capabilities, either through financing plans or by hosting a number of them. It has become certain that the further we look, the safest it becomes to treat issues. The money used in a state of emergency has limited objectives and we have asked for $20 billion to deal with the overall crisis, but we only received $10 billion.”
Lazzarini added, “Despite our intervention, poverty rates have increased instead of declined, and debt levels have risen among the displaced. We started seeing very negative social phenomena such as child marriage and child labor, in addition to people dying every day while attempting to cross the sea to reach Europe. This is why we need adequate financing to address the crisis and support host communities. We tried to help host communities by supporting about 250 of the poorest municipalities that sank deep after hosting 80% of the displaced people.”
Lazzarini does not believe the Syrian crisis is the only crisis lying in store. He thinks the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) should anticipate future crises, although its current crises are structural since it has been providing aid to Palestinians for a long time. He noted that if it were not for the tireless efforts exerted by UNRWA officials last year, the crisis would have kept students out of school.
He does not believe donor countries were punishing Lebanon, as Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam had implied when launching the second version of Lebanon’s plan to respond to the crisis. He stressed that Lebanon received the same financing ratio obtained by Jordan, “if not a better one.” But he estimated that Salam may have alluded to the donor countries’ direct donations to Lebanon, which seemed stalled for two main reasons, according to Lazzarini. The first is the political crisis and the paralysis of the government that betrayed the confidence of donors, and the second is that the government did not approve the amount allocated by the World Bank, simply because it did not hold a Cabinet session.
Lazzarini, who is rationally optimistic, said that a mechanism is starting to emerge for the first time to develop a framework for a political solution in Syria, and that the UN Security Council agreed on a framework for action, “which is bound to be fruitful should a cease-fire be established.” He stressed that only a political solution can guarantee the Syrians’ return to their homeland, but until then, the issue should be taken seriously in order to provide a decent living for the displaced while ensuring the development of host communities.