Project partnerships to improve the delivery of essential public services for the local population and refugees
Today, Syrian refugees already make up a quarter of the total population in Lebanon. Since both the local population and refugees use the same public services, education system, health system and infrastructure, the Lebanese host communities are reaching the limit of their ability to cope.
The 'Municipal Know-how for Host Communities in the Middle East' programme brings German and Lebanese municipalities together in order, through partnerships, to initiate and successfully implement concrete projects to improve the overburdened municipal infrastructure.
From 31 March to 6 April 2019 a German delegation comprising seven municipal experts from municipalities of Straubing and Kirchhundem and the Netzwerk Innenstadt NRW (North Rhine-Westphalian inner city network) travelled to Lebanon in order to establish contacts with the host communities already identified by the programme. Together with their counterparts in Lebanon they set out to explore opportunities for project partnerships.
Making contacts, reflecting on impressions, forging ideas for partnerships
The German experts had a week within which to familiarise themselves with conditions on the ground. The agenda kicked off with a reception at the German Embassy in Beirut and a security briefing. This was followed by further meetings in the capital and excursions to smaller municipalities in other parts of the country. Since the municipal experts were from different areas of specialisation in anticipation of their future project partnerships, on some days the group split up to attend different meetings. To complete the informative week, the participants had a day-long workshop to reflect on their impressions and experiences, identify key areas for future cooperation and formulate initial ideas for projects.
Main focus on water
For the four delegates from Straubing the main focus of interest was water. The experts from the municipal enterprise SER (Straubing drainage and sewage treatment company) and the Civil Engineering Office had come to explore options for project partnerships in the field of water supply, sewage treatment and energy recovery from sewage sludge.
In the course of the week the group travelled to Rmeich, a small town on the border with Israel, and to Douris in the Bekaa Valley, where large numbers of Syrian refugees have settled, often under precarious conditions. Informal settlements in particular often lack a clean drinking water supply and a sewage management solution.
During the concluding workshop the Straubing delegation drew up the following plan: In Rmeich the first step will be to form a project team in order to discuss drinking water supply and sanitation needs, and harmonise more precisely the interests of the different stakeholders. It should then be possible to consider which partners will be best suited for project cooperation. For municipal cooperation in the Bekaa Valley, drinking water supply emerged as a focus for project work. To provide young people in the area with prospects for the future, the delegation also advocated cooperation in the field of education.
Focus on projects for environmental protection and local economic development
For the participants from the Netzwerk Innenstadt NRW (North Rhine-Westphalian inner city network) and the Municipality of Kirchhundem, the agenda for the week included visits to Hebbarieh and Al Quaa. Here the spectrum of thematic areas for possible cooperation was wider, ranging from waste management and renewable energy to local economic development and tourism development. The delegates encountered two very different situations in the two municipalities.
Their counterparts in Hebbarieh were seeking support in various areas in order to improve the difficult situation faced by the population. This would involve working together with German municipalities. To systematically identify the local capacities, resources and needs, at the concluding workshop the German participants suggested launching knowledge sharing and organisational development activities in order to first of all strengthen the foundations for cooperation with municipal actors from Hebbarieh. In a second step the two sides would then develop concrete plans for a project partnership. The possibility of cooperation in the field of solid waste management is being looked into.
In Al Quaa the delegation encountered project structures that were already established. The participants visited projects involving the marketing of local products, the improvement of infrastructure and tourism development. These were partly financed by various donors. One avenue for future cooperation might involve drawing up a master plan for sustainable development planning and financing, in order to support the municipality in defining its own key areas and approaching donors proactively.
Project focus on urban and neighbourhood development
On the final excursion day the entire group visited the urban municipality of Bourj Hammoud. This suburb of Beirut, which was originally Armenian, is home to 150,000 people. The town is multicultural, vibrant, and a popular shopping district. Several exemplary projects in the field of urban and neighbourhood development have already been successfully implemented here. Examples of social housing construction and measures to improve the quality of life such as the construction of sports facilities and green spaces are unique in Lebanon, and foster cohesion between the local population and refugees. The municipality intends to continue along this path and use project partnerships with German municipalities to benefit from expertise and capacity building for neighbourhood management.
Discussions will be continued
At the end of the week the German municipal experts were deeply impressed by the measures that the Lebanese municipalities had already, with limited funds, launched in order to accommodate the refugees under reasonably decent conditions and provide them with essential services. At the same time, however, they also saw how the already precarious municipal infrastructure is coming under increasing pressure as a result of the influx of refugees, and in some cases is already no longer working properly. To promote the process of working together as equals, the participants from Straubing and the Netzwerk Innenstadt NRW (North Rhine-Westphalian inner city network) are thinking about inviting delegates from the visited Lebanese municipalities to Germany in order to present their own projects here and to continue the discussions begun in Lebanon.