Improving the Quality of Life for Locals and Refugees in Ghazzé, Lebanon
Municipal know-how for Lebanon from Germany's Allgäu region
Markt Heimenkirch is one of six municipalities in the Allgäu region now engaged in local development cooperation in Lebanon. By working together with Lebanese municipalities in projects, these municipalities from southern Germany aim to help improve the quality of life for both locals and refugees in the region. Germany's Development Minister Gerd Müller already called on German municipalities at the end of 2016 to support refugees from the Syrian Civil War – not just within their own locality here in Germany, but also in Syria's neighbouring countries. Particularly large numbers of people have found refuge in Lebanese towns close to the border. This sudden leap in population growth has pushed these small rural municipalities to the limit of their capacities, which means they are no longer able to deliver adequate public services for everyone living in the municipality. For Markus Reichart, mayor of the small municipality of Markt Heimenkirch in the Allgäu, one thing quickly became clear: Here the German municipality can make a difference. Not just from a distance by sending donations, but also by planning and implementing joint projects – in close consultation and on an equal footing with local municipal officials.
From the Idea of Cooperation to the Project
The neighbouring municipalities of Amtzell, Gestratz, Hergatz and Opfenbach in southern Germany also showed an interest in getting involved in Lebanon's border area. At a public information event held in the Allgäu region by the Service Agency Communities in One World, interested municipal representatives were able to obtain answers to their important questions about project work and opportunities for financial support. As a result, in November 2017 a first delegation from the Allgäu comprising 15 municipal representatives travelled to Lebanon to see for themselves the situation of the refugees and establish initial contacts. A Lebanese delegation returned the visit by coming to the Allgäu in May 2018. The reciprocal visits and face-to-face links helped build a great deal of trust on both sides. The German municipality of Markt Heimenkirch decided to enter into a project partnership with the Lebanese municipality of Ghazzé. In September 2018 another delegation – this time from Heimenkirch – set off to Lebanon. Together with the municipal council of Ghazzé and other actors also involved on the ground, the delegates decide to rehabilitate and improve the infrastructure of the public park as a recreational space for local citizens and refugees.
Ghazzé and the Beqaa Valley – A Safe Haven for Syrian Refugees
Ghazzé lies in the western part of the Lebanese Beqaa Valley, some 40 km from the Syrian capital Damascus. Before the Syrian War broke out it was home to a population of around 6,500 whose income came mainly from agriculture and small business. Since 2012 Ghazzé has been a safe haven for more than 30,000 refugees from Syria. Barely half of them have found a solid roof over their heads – a large proportion of the refugees live in informal camps under precarious conditions. The rapid population growth, the unplanned sprawl and the excessive strain on the municipal infrastructure are creating gigantic challenges for the municipality of Ghazzé which it is barely able to cope with by itself. Basic emergency assistance is providing refugees with food and water. However the municipality is now unable to cope with planning and delivering key municipal services such as an operational water supply and sanitation system or systematic solid waste management for so many people. The situation in many Lebanese municipalities close to the border is like that in Ghazzé.
A Park for Everyone
The citizens of Ghazzé were once proud of their park with its cultural and sports facilities. It is roughly six hectares in size. It was built in 2004 – funded chiefly by donations from locals who had lived abroad for a while. The park also provides Syrian refugee families with an opportunity to leave behind their everyday lives in the refugee camps for a short while. During the initial phase of the influx of refugees from Syria, however, the new arrivals also used the park as a place to sleep due to the lack of infrastructure. This public green space has not recovered from that to this day, and it has become unappealing. Facilities that no longer work and are no longer tended are not appreciated today, either by the long-established residents or by the refugees.
In response to a request by the local council of Ghazzé, a Dutch organisation operating in the region had already drawn up plans for the 'Citizens' Park Project'. These plans envisage redesigning the park as a place where locals and refugees can meet. This was where the Municipality of Markt Heimenkirch was able to get actively involved with a project component. Together with Lebanese landscape planners, concrete project ideas for a drainage system incorporating a pond were developed. The plans also envisage the planting of trees to create new shaded picnic areas.
Taking Stock – There Are Still Many Opportunities for Deepening Engagement
Although the park project did get bogged down somewhat due to occasional communication difficulties, Markt Heimenkirch remains highly motivated to make a difference. There are now plans to continue the park project in 2020 by building the pond and the drainage system. The municipality also decided to get involved in another cooperation project. During the earlier fact-finding missions, delegates had noticed that there were barely any educational or recreational offering for children or adolescents.
Together with the Municipality of Babenhausen, in 2019 Heimenkirch applied for a second Quick-Starter Package I in order to get a youth adult education project off the ground. In two joint workshops, young adults from Germany's Allgäu region and from Lebanon will be trained as youth leaders. The first workshop took place in December 2019 at the Young Persons' Education Centre in Babenhausen.
Municipal Cooperation Between Germany's Allgäu Region and Lebanon
Local development cooperation also takes place in the Allgäu. The five municipalities initially involved have now been joined by a sixth, and two more municipalities are interested. Since 2018, these six municipalities have networked through their Inter-Municipal Lebanon Committee. At their regular meetings the responsible officers remain in continuous dialogue – any anyone else who develops an interest can also come along and see how development cooperation among equals works. In 2020 it will be Markt Heimenkirch's turn to chair the committee. Mayor Markus Reichart is confident this will be a success.
First Mayor Markt Heimenkirch
Telephon:+49 8381 805-10