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Strategies for socially and environmentally sustainable futures: urgent challenges and emerging vulnerabilities

On 25-26 October 2019, a group of academics, representatives of NGOs and international organisations, social advocates and politicians met at Antwork Beirut to discuss some of the major challenges for Syria in the coming years.

The workshop was funded by the Swedish research council for sustainable development, Formas, and was organised by Helen Avery (CMES) and Chavia Ali (ip-ACIRR).

CMES Masters student Matthew Heinrichs was part of the facilitating team. The two-day workshop dealt with issues related to sustainability and food security, as well as sustainable and inclusive development, particularly for persons with disabilities.

The urgency of these issues was underlined by several participants. Rabie Naser, from the Syrian Center for Policy Research, showed that between 2010 and 2018, the food security index dropped 40%, largely due to the conflict. He also explained the weaponization of food in the context of sieges in Syria.

Huge need for inclusive structure

Chavia Ali discussed the need to use rebuilding Syria as an opportunity to make it more accessible for those with disabilities and the importance keeping this in mind during future infrastructural projects. There is a risk that disability rights may be backgrounded in situations of economic crisis, at the same time that the need for inclusive structures is huge, considering that large groups of the population are left with disabilities as a direct consequence of the armed conflict.

Several participants illustrated ongoing projects and their challenges in Syria. Adam Yao of FAO described programs related to natural resource sustainability and supporting women and youth in the agricultural sector. For example, FAO is assessing the value chain of 15 commodity agricultural products in the context of conflict.

Challenges because of ongoing conflic

Adam also described how FAO is supporting women in recognition of the heightened number of female-headed households, but also alluded to challenges due to donor restrictions in the context of ongoing conflict, a challenge shared by many participants.

Aylin Fazelian, a member of the Swedish Parliament, highlighted Sweden’s current and future involvement and views related to the conflict in Syria, specifically its feminist foreign policy. Other notable participants included Hassan Machlab, Director of ICARDA Lebanon, Zeinab Tag-Eldeen of the Swedish National Agricultural University, Salam Said of the University of Bremen, and Hazem Ibrahim, a well-known disability rights activist currently based in Dubai. 


During the workshop, participants identified a number strategic priorities
During the workshop, participants identified a number strategic priorities.
During the workshop, participants identified a number strategic priorities.

Strategic priorities

During the workshop, participants identified a number strategic priorities in addressing the serious challenges Syria is facing, including:

  • context-based solutions
  • a focus on empowering and engaging with local communities and municipalities
  • developing sustainable solutions for early, short and long-term recovery
  • creating a framework for policies that are mindful of those with disabilities
  • emphasizing solutions that are favorable to the environment and resilience, rather than limited to immediate urgencies

As an outcome of the meeting, participants decided to continue collaboration and networking around the topics that were treated.