Speeches & Transcripts

Statement by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim at the Syria Conference

February 4, 2016

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim Syria Conference London, United Kingdom

As Prepared for Delivery

I’d like to thank our host, the UK government, and the co-organizers Kuwait, Germany, Norway, and the United Nations, for bringing us here today.

There is no shortage of reminders of the full cost of what is happening in Syria today. So many have died from the conflict, and millions of those who have survived have had their lives torn apart. More than 2 million refugees from Syria are now in the neighboring countries of Jordan and Lebanon. These two nations have done the world a huge service in their generous help to Syrians, despite causing great sacrifice for their people and their economies.

In fact, we estimate this generosity has cost about $2.7 billion dollars a year in Jordan and $1.6 billion dollars a year in Lebanon.   The two countries have been the main financiers to support the refugees, which has led to a rapid increase in their indebtedness.  Jordan’s debt to GDP ratio is now 91 percent, and Lebanon’s is 138 percent.  This is not sustainable.

These countries argue – and we agree – that the best solution is to find as much financing as possible through grants.  For the remainder, we are working with the Islamic Development Bank and the United Nations to design concessional financing instruments to support the efforts of both Lebanon and Jordan.  

Today, I’d like to announce that our Board of Directors is working with World Bank Group management on an extraordinary measure to provide $200 million dollars in direct concessional financing to create jobs and increase access to education in Lebanon and Jordan. Separately, through the development of a MENA Financing facility, we are launching with the Islamic Development Bank and the United Nations an initiative that aims to raise $1 billion dollars of grants from donors. These grants will leverage between $3 and $4 billion dollars of concessional finance for the two countries.  In addition, we are pursuing guarantees to open up space on development banks’ balance sheets and we will also issue bonds, which will provide additional financing for recovery and reconstruction programs in the region.

These new financing initiatives, combined with our existing programs, are expected to total about $20 billion dollars in the next five years – which is roughly triple our investment in the region from the previous five years.  In addition to our Middle East response, we are also supporting Turkey in addressing  the influx of Syrian refugees into its borders.  

In short, we are doing everything we can to find innovative ways to help these countries. One prominent example is that Prime Minister David Cameron, His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan and I began discussing, in September, how best to create jobs for both Jordanians and Syrian refugees. We are exploring the creation of special economic zones and encouraging investments in municipal projects and labor intensive work. We must create mutual benefit for the host communities as well as the refugees.

Development agencies and humanitarian organizations often have worked in the past as completely separate entities. But we know that a refugee can remain a refugee for years, even decades, and we must find ways to bring knowledge from development organizations such as the World Bank Group to improve the lives of refugees soon after they arrive in a host country – not years later.

We must all respond to what Martin Luther King called “the fierce urgency of the now.” We’re determined that our resources will be put to immediate and long-lasting use – to create jobs, to educate children, and to provide economic opportunities for both Syrian refugees as well as their generous hosts in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

It’s imperative that we rise to the challenge of the humanitarian crisis at hand, and that we do so in a way that supports development for generations to come. Thank you very much.