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الموقع تحت الإنشاء

النسخة التجريبية من موقع النهضة العربية (أرض)

Decision Makers and Experts in the Arab world emphasize the importance of localization and solidarity between the government, the private sector and civil society organizations to combat COVID-19 @ARDD’s 1st session of Regional Dialogue Series on Social Protection in the Arab World


On Monday, 13 April 2020, the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) held the first online session of its Regional Dialogue Series on Social Protection policies in the Arab world. The host and moderator of this Dialogue Series, H.E. Sawsan Al-Majali, Chairman of the Labor and Development Committee in the Jordanian Senate, began this session by stating that it aims to focus on the circumstances imposed by COVID-19 and its consequences. Al-Majali highlighted that this first session “aims to discuss social protection in light of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to learn from Arab Countries and shed light on the Jordanian experience, as well as other perceptions of countries in the region.”

The speakers in the first session included:

·      H.E. Basma Isshaqat – Minister of Social Development – Jordan

·      H.E. Ambassador Haifa Abu Ghazaleh – Assistant Secretary General, Head of the Social Affairs Sector at the League of Arab States

·      H.E. Yusuf Mansur – former Minister of State for Economic Affairs – Jordan

·      H.E. Akram Khalifa – Regional Adviser on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women – ESCWA

·      H.E. Noha El Mekawi – Regional Director of the Ford Foundation, Middle East and North Africa,

·      H.E. Ghada Abdel Tawab – Officer of Decent Work and Social Protection at the Ford Foundation, Middle East and North Africa.

In light of various public health measures, many countries have achieved some apparent success in controlling the spread of the disease. However, on the economic front, there seems to be a significant amount of concern that while the health measures are largely effective, they have increased the vulnerability of many people and, in many ways, crippled the economy. In recent years, governments throughout the Arab world have initiated several national strategies to improve the economy, create jobs, reduce unemployment, improve livelihoods and reduce vulnerability of various communities. However, the evident presence of inequalities and weak social protection institutions persists. Thus, these dialogue sessions aim to investigate and document the points of view and perspectives of Arab experts with regard to the multi-layered impact of the current COVID-19 health crisis on inequalities in the region, as well as its effects on poverty levels, social protection, and welfare of individuals and communities from a macro perspective of analysis.

With regard to social protection policies in Jordan and the measures taken by the Jordanian government, H.E. Basma Isshaqat explained the three axes of the social protection strategy launched in 2019. The first of these, “Chances,” deals with providing decent work opportunities, improving the work environment and social security policies. The second, “Dignity,” deals with financial aid provided to families in light of studies and strategies determining poverty rates. The third axis, “Justice,” is concerned with access to various social justice services. This includes the social development sector, such as services for persons with disabilities, the elderly, and other marginalized groups, and the rights of these groups to education and health services at different levels. She added that in light of the COVID-19 crisis, a new social protection committee was formed including representatives from the public and private sectors, and civil society organizations. Members of this committee are working together to collect accurate data on the social and economic level of around 1,300,000 vulnerable families in Jordan, with the ultimate aim to identify those that are most in need of financial assistance. . She also added that monetary portfolios were launched, in cooperation with the Central Bank, to facilitate access to aid for those in need, in addition to launching a system for delivering in-kind assistance and managing distribution in cooperation with civil society organizations. Isshaqat confirmed that mechanisms are being followed to ensure that parcels reach their recipients. The Social Protection Committee addressed various shelters’ needs through implementing a set of conditions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to them, and to ensure decent living conditions for their residents. This is in addition to implementing measures targeting daily workers in the informal sector.

On the Jordanian economic front, the economic expert H.E. Dr. Yusuf Mansur shed light on the economic consequences imposed by the pandemic, saying that “the crisis has come at a difficult time for the Jordanian economy, as the country suffers from a major economic recession in which citizen’s income has been declining for over a period of ten years.” He added that while Jordan has taken early public health measures that may be considered the best in the world, from an economic point of view, the economy is not suited to handle the newly imposed restrictions. He added that in regards to the prolonged duration of closures imposed by the quarantine, there is a consequent exacerbation of the economic decline, which was estimated by the World Bank to be at a rate of 3.5% for this year. This is especially true with uncertainty accompanying COVID-19 developments such as the reopening or closing of various sectors such as tourism and transport due to physical distancing measures, and the reduction of collection and tax fees due to the contraction of the economy. Dr. Yusuf Mansur stressed the importance of calling on all countries to show economic solidarity and support, and the importance of focusing on the impact of the crisis on the conditions of daily workers. Mansur also clarified that the instructions and procedures of the Central Bank of Jordan to help existing institutions were good, but the lack of a current operation may cause an economic problem for several sectors. He stressed the importance civil society organizations’ collaboration with the government and the private sector to help the affected groups, while committing to health directives – taking into account the conditions of each region in Jordan and emphasized the importance of paying attention to migrant workers and refugees to mitigate the effects of this pandemic on them.

Regionally, with regard to the role of the League of Arab States in managing the Arab response to the crisis, Ambassador Haifa Abu Ghazaleh demonstrated the importance of exchanging experiences internationally. She shared that  the League of Arab States held a meeting between Arab and Chinese experts to discuss measures to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and possible treatment mechanisms. The Arab League stressed the importance of addressing the social impacts of the pandemic from a human rights perspective. This included the importance of utilizing the energies of youth and civil society as a whole and potentially having NGOs in the Arab League as observer members. In addition to cooperating with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Arab League is focusing on health issues alongside social issues, with specific attention to refugees and the current and future implications of this crisis on them. Abu Ghazaleh added that the League of Arab States is committed to presenting recommendations to the Arab states without constraining them, and to coordinate with Arab countries to enhance cooperation to support the safety and effectiveness of Arab responses measures.

According to the recent ESCWA report on the effects of the pandemic in the Arab region, financial losses for the region are estimated to be approximately $ 22 billion. The report predicts the continuation of these effects even after the pandemic has been resolved, and that more than 8 million people  will become “poor,” making the expected total of people living in poverty in the Arab region 101.4 million. The report also showed that 50 million people in the Arab region are suffering from malnutrition, with fears of food insecurity. Here, H.E. Akram Khalifa discussed “the implications of the emerging Coronavirus pandemic on equality in the Arab region.” He shared that “as is usually the case in humanitarian situations, it is feared that women will be most affected by the health risks and violence that the Corona pandemic will generate in The Arab region.” Khalifa further emphasized that ESCWA will continue to play its regional role in light of wars and conflicts and will ensure the continuity of their projects in affected countries such as Libya and Yemen. He also added that they will continue their work in the economic field and the provision of knowledge in partnership with civil society organizations and other projects to support fragile states as well, especially in light of the growing social and economic distress and fears of the collapse of health systems.

As for the role of the international funding institutions in supporting affected societies, H.E. Noha Al-Makkawi explained that “this crisis was not unexpected, as WHO already issued warnings and concerns of such health crisis 15 years ago,” indicating that solutions are a global demand for all countries at the same time. She added that the policies of neo-liberalism and ferocious capitalist systems are the reason for the current situation, as they have prevented the world from effectively preparing for COVID-19, as it has been preceded by other previous pandemics and epidemics. Al-Makkawi stressed that within this framework, “The shareholders had more power than the stakeholders.” She stressed that the crisis has stressed international funding institutions, and they will be affected by the consequences of the economic crisis and the lack of funding, especially for actors that depend on private sector donations. She shared that the Ford Foundation is dedicated to not interrupting ongoing support to the most affected countries and to continuing their support through local community organizations. She also added the Ford Foundation is careful to ensure that their strategies are in line with the national strategies.

In her intervention, her Excellency Ghada Abdel Tawab drew attention to the reality that “the fragility of the social protection systems in the Arab world and the world as a whole is exposed by the COVID-19 crisis.” She added that the informal sector represents about 70% of the employment in the Arab region, and that there are those who do not have the luxury of the physical distancing required by the crisis and do not have or have no access to comprehensive health insurance, and that there are many workers in the formal sector who are at risk of losing their jobs. She stressed the importance of continuing to work on social protection agendas,  as topic that is a priority for the Ford Foundation, and that through its partners, it seeks to promote social protection efforts at the local and regional level. The speakers emphasized the importance of localization of humanitarian efforts, evidence-based partnerships, mutual respect, and an understanding of the structural factors of inequality, contributing to better preparedness and protection that includes all groups affected should there be a future a global crisis hits.

On the local level, the importance of activating the role of local community organizations was emphasized, along with a major role for the Jordanian government, recognizing that it currently struggles with limited economic capabilities considering the past ten years of economic decline.

Ultimately, the speakers called on the international community to work on establishing a crisis response fund in cooperation between countries. They also urged Arab governments to take urgent, comprehensive responses aimed at alleviating the repercussions of the Coronavirus pandemic that do not exclude anyone at the policy level. These responses should include financial measures to support the economy, efforts to support people in need and to promote social solidarity, measures aimed at achieving sustainability and food security, measures to strengthen institutions and their readiness, measures to support and build partnerships with the private sector, and working to strengthen social solidarity. In addition, it was stressed that there is a need for urgent measures and procedures based on a consistent approach that takes gender equity into consideration, limits pandemic outbreaks, protects the health of all groups and serves the interests of the poor, protects the most affected in terms of their livelihoods and security, and does not neglect anyone.