Europe’s refugee crisis shouldn’t blind the international community to the heavy economic toll the Syrian conflict is having on Jordan.
By Khalid W. Wazani
Two years ago, the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation joined forces with the United Nations Development Programme to launch a National Response Plan designed to support Jordan’s efforts in mitigating the negative economic impact of the Syrian refugee crisis.
The plan is run on a yearly basis so that international donors can allocate some of their annual budgets towards its upkeep. Apparently, the plan’s annual budget has never been fully funded since its inception. The government has said that only one-third of the plan for 2015 had been covered by the international community until the end of August. This means that the maximum the country could receive until the end of this year is barely 50 percent of the total annual burden of the Syrian refugees on Jordan’s economy.
The tragic images of Syrian refugees trying to reach Europe has dominated the front pages of many international newspapers over recent months. However, the humanitarian dimension of this crisis has taken the media spotlight away from the huge financial burden the crisis has placed on countries bordering Syria like Jordan and Lebanon.
Jordan was unable to close its doors to the huge influx of refugees that reached almost 6,000 per day last summer. This might be attributed to humanitarian, social, ethical, and even, to a lesser extent, political reasons. Absorbing around 1.4 million people over a period of four years is not an easy task for any country, regardless of how wealthy or developed it is. Some European countries, in an effort to keep wary taxpayers onside, have made a big issue out of receiving a couple of hundred thousand refugees. But Jordan, where Syrians now compose almost 20 percent of the population, is paying $3,000 annually for each refugee in terms of all types of direct and indirect costs on the economy infrastructure and the public budget. Furthermore, this doesn’t look like a short-term burden. The best optimistic scenario says that at any time the crisis in Syria ends, the refugees will need over a decade to be able to go back to their homes which are mostly destroyed and are in need of a very long reconstruction period.
To this end, Jordan and its National Response Program will need to be prepared for at least an annual burden of $4 billion over the coming couple of decades. With a total public debt today of almost $31 billion—almost 90 percent of GDP—Jordan and its tax payers are subject to an extra burden of this same amount if it continues to receive or retain the same number of refugees for the coming decade. The international community has a duty to stand by Jordan, not only through some direct minor supporting programs in host communities and areas, but also by direct support to public budget or by absorbing a substantial number of the refugees in both countries. However, if a peaceful solution is in the offing, then the burden of refugees will still be there but not for a long period of time. Therefore, direct budget support schemes, along the National Response Program, might be sufficient enough to minimize the financial burden on Jordan.