Amman, March 15, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Open Society Foundations today announced that they are giving $1.7 million to a United Nations initiative in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) that seeks to catalyze increased public spending on achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by negotiating reduced national debt service payments. Importantly, the initiative provides a channel for MENA civil society organizations to have a voice about where such kinds of innovative financing is needed most.
The two-and-a-half-year project partnership, which will last from April 2023 through September 2025, will support work by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) with interested member states and civil society to identify investment projects that prioritize the most urgent needs of MENA societies. ESCWA will support member states in reaching agreements with their creditors to redirect scheduled debt service payments into sustainable local investments.
An emphasis on robust project monitoring and evaluation provides an incentive to creditors who are ready to deliver on their own commitments to climate and sustainable development goals financing in MENA. The initiative is further strengthened by the role of ESCWA’s Advisory Committee, made up of experts with experience implementing debt swaps and providing economic policy advice on inclusive growth in other parts of the world.
Heavily indebted MENA countries have pressing financing needs to address climate adaptation and sustainable development goals, while struggling to recover from fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic and repercussions of the war in Ukraine, including growing food insecurity. As middle-income countries, they are both excluded from debt relief frameworks and find it difficult to access the financing they need.
The combined public debt burden of Arab countries was $1.5 trillion, equivalent to about 54 percent of the region’s GDP in 2021. In addition, the Arab region continues to suffer disproportionately from climate change and 90 percent of the population resides in water-scarce countries. Conflicts in the region have devastated institutions and infrastructure and some 66 million persons in Arab countries affected by conflict are dependent on humanitarian aid.
“The ESCWA initiative is a win-win strategy for all stakeholders involved,” said Issandr Amrani, executive director for Open Society–Middle East and North Africa. “As a multilateral institution with a commitment to human rights and civil society engagements, ESCWA provides a new opportunity for civil society to engage with governments on borrowing, spending, and development priorities. Open Society is committed to backing innovative projects that can help deliver economic justice.”
Yamide Dagnet, Open Society’s director for Climate Justice, added: “Climate disruption poses exponential risks to MENA’s economic and political challenges. Open Society’s pro-climate and fiscal-forward support can pave the way for catalytic investment in a just and inclusive climate transformation. From spurring dynamic and higher quality, green new employment opportunities that spark optimism among youth, women, and other marginalized communities, to addressing adaptation issues such as water scarcity that risks amplifying conflict. The fiscal space and just opportunities this pledge creates expands how we must put climate justice into action.”
Open Society’s president announced the launch of the grant during a high-level plenary session of the Arab Forum on Sustainable Development in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 15, 2023.