Syria: The War on Development

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Oct. 31, 2013 – Syria’s economy has lost more than $103 billion since March 2011 while 2.3 million jobs have been lost and almost half the country’s school-age children are no longer in formal education.

The country’s conflict, which started after government forces used lethal force on peaceful protesters, has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people while an estimated 400,000 more people have been maimed or injured. That’s 2 percent of the population that have been killed, injured or maimed.

These are among the dire statistics in a joint report issued by UNDP and UNRWA this week on the devastating impact of the conflict on Syria’s socio-economic development.

Some 3,000 schools are out of service as a result of damage or destruction while others are housing internally displaced people.

The effect on medical services is particularly acute with the ratio of doctors to serve the population falling from one for every 660 people to one for every 4,400 people.

The World Health Organization earlier this week reported that cases of polio have been confirmed, the first such outbreak since 1999 and that vaccination rates have plummeted from 91 percent in 2010 to 68 percent in 2012.

Some 8 million Syrians have fallen into poverty since the crisis began with more than half of those living in extreme poverty.

“As the formal economy has imploded there has been a growth in informality, rent-seeking 
activities, criminal enterprise and economies of violence that will plague post-conflict economic regulation, reform, equity and development,” the UNDP-UNRWA report says.

The full report is here

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/Wikimedia

Half of Syria’s Chemical Warfare Agents to be destroyed in Norway – Report

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update: Oct 25 – In a statement on its website, Norway’s ministry of foreign affairs says it won’t destroy Syria’s chemical warfare agents: “due to time constraints and external factors, such as capacities, regulatory requirements, Norway is not the most suitable location for the destruction of Syrian chemical warfare agents.”

Oct. 20, 2013 – Up to 500 tons of Syria’s stockpile of sarin gas is set to be destroyed in Norway pending agreement by Oslo.

Norwegian state broadcaster NRK reported on Sunday that an internal UN memo it obtained shows that the five permanent members of the Security Council along with Albania and Belgium have been asked to destroy Syria’s chemical warfare agents.

But Norway, home of the Nobel Foundation that last week bestowed its annual peace prize to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has been asked to destroy up to half of the estimated 1,000 tons of chemical agents thought to be in Syria’s possession. 

A UN Security Council resolution passed on Sept. 27 set mid-2014 as deadline for destruction of Syria’s entire chemical arsenal.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo/opcw

Libya Case Provides Lessons for OPCW Inspectors in Syria

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OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü speaks to reporters after announcement that the organisation had won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize (photo/opcw)

Oct 11, 2013 – When Libya joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in January 2004, Muammar Gaddafi declared to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that the country possessed some 1,400 tonnes of chemical agents and precursor chemicals, more than 3,500 chemical weapons munitions, as well as three production facilities.

Almost ten years later, two of the production facilities have been demolished, the third one converted to produce pharmaceuticals, while the declared munitions have been flattened by bulldozers – but only about half the stockpile of chemical agents and precursor chemicals have been destroyed, according to the OPCW.  

That makes the proposed mid-2014 deadline for the newly minted Nobel Peace Prize winners to verify the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal seem ambitious at the very least – the Assad regime is reported to possess about 1,000 tonnes of agents and precursor chemicals.

And something else that the Hague-based organization is sure to keep in mind as it tackles the Syria operation is that Gaddafi lied to the OPCW in 2004 and it was only after his downfall that the new government in Tripoli in November 2011 discovered previously undeclared stockpiles. 

There’s little reason to trust Assad’s declarations at this stage – just days before admitting his regime possessed chemical weapons, he denied that it possessed those same weapons.

But the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) includes a mechanism whereby any state party can initiate a challenge inspection if it suspects non-compliance by another member. This is where the UN Security Council comes into play. Resolution 2118, adopted on Sept. 27, states that OPCW inspectors must have “unfettered access to and the right to inspect, in discharging their functions, any and all sites, and by allowing immediate and unfettered access to individuals that the OPCW has grounds to believe to be of importance for the purpose of its mandate.

Failure to do so calls for a Chapter VII resolution. It would be beyond credibility for Russia or China to veto a resolution that would call on a state party to honor its treaty commitments.

The OPCW has now given Libya until the end of 2016 to complete destruction of its chemical weapons program, after it missed the original April 29, 2012 deadline. CWC members Iraq, Russia and the US have also not yet completed destruction of their chemical arsenal while Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea and South Sudan have not joined the treaty.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Djibouti – The UN’s Forgotten Crisis

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Oct 6, 2013 – Despite hosting a US military base and a French naval base, Djibouti’s humanitarian crisis is largely ignored by the international community.

The UN appealed for $70 million at the beginning of the year to address widespread malnutrition in the drought-stricken country but so far has only received $18 million, making it the most underfunded humanitarian appeal, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The US, which operates its surveillance and armed drone programs for nearby Yemen and neighboring Somalia out of Djibouti, has contributed a mere $152,000 to the UN appeal, while France, which lost its rule over the country in 1977, has not made any contribution, UN figures show.

Djibouti ranks near the bottom of the Human Development Index and about one-third of the country’s children are malnourished while the practice of female genital mutilation is commonly carried out on girls between the ages of 2 and 5, according to UNICEF

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: A US Predator drone flying at sunset – Charles McCain/Flickr.