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Lebanese municipalities pay an exchange visit to the Westallgäu region

Federal Minister Dr Gerd Müller acknowledges the engagement of municipalities and pledges further support

Funded by the Quick-Starter Package I under the Municipal Know-How for Host Communities in the Middle East programme, from 7 – 14 May 2018 a delegation representing six Lebanese municipalities visited the German municipalities of Heimenkirch, Amtzell, Gestratz, Hergatz and Opfenbach. This was a return visit by the Lebanese delegation, following the visit made by the German municipalities to Lebanon in November 2017, during which initial links were established.

The 18 visitors from Lebanon, who included mayors, development coordinators, professional experts and voluntary helpers from the municipalities of Ghazzée, Bwarej, Bar Elias, Rasha’ine, Al Mohammara and the Union of Minnieh, had an extensive agenda.

One highlight on day one was the attendance at a lunch by Germany's Federal Minister Dr Gerd Müller. He said how impressed he was by the huge achievements of the Lebanese municipalities. In some of these municipalities the number of Syrian refugees is several times the number of local inhabitants.

He invited the mayors from the Lebanese municipalities to describe their situation and the challenges they face on a daily basis. He also asked them specific questions on the housing situation, the situation in schools, and the organisation of support measures by international organisations.

The mayors were glad to answer these questions. A dialogue developed about what would be the most appropriate measures to improve the situation. A female civil engineer who teaches child refugees in a school in El Mohammara in the afternoons under cramped conditions told the minister about her work and the challenges involved in working with children who have been forced to flee from war. Overall, the need for concrete support and the transfer of expertise remains huge.

The minister described knowledge sharing between the six Lebanese municipalities and the five municipalities from the Westallgäu region as a model project that he would continue to support. He said that partnerships would be established that go beyond the short-term, making it possible to jointly plan and implement concrete improvements in the situation of refugees and the local population. The programme would be further strengthened, he said.

During their stay in the Westallgäu region the guests from Lebanese visited chiefly local institutions delivering basic public services. These included a waste gasification plant and a biogas plant in Amtzell, the Upper Laiblach wastewater association – in which the municipalities ofHergatz, Heimenkirch and Opfenbach have joined forces, a reed bed treatment plant in Kißleg, the remote water supply facility in Upper Allgäu and the solid waste management association in Kempten.

The visitors continued asking inquisitive questions, which revolved around the possibility of transferring solutions to their own municipalities. Now and again, the discussions that followed overshot the allotted time. 'What is the capacity of the plant, how many people can the treatment plant serve?' 'Is it worthwhile to work with that type of plant using smaller modules?' 'How much does it cost to set up and operate the waste gasification plant?' 'What qualifications does someone need to operate the plant?' The special-purpose associations in particular, and the way they work, met with great interest: 'How do they work?'
Another focus of the exchange based on practical examples involved various projects for local economic development and environmental protection. The visitors also had an opportunity to see for themselves the Alpine landscape and the Nagelfluhkette nature park, and while touring the locality they got a chance to see the gym, the village shop, the community centre and the fire brigade.

In cooperation with the village and rural development school (SDL) in Thierhaupten, a one-day exchange event took place at which participants compared the municipal structures for local self-government in Lebanon and southern Germany. They discussed and defined options for implementing joint projects together with the Lebanese municipalities.

Before the visitors flew back to Lebanon, just before the month of fasting during Ramadan, a final workshop was held in Heimenkirch on 14 May. There, the municipalities from Lebanon met in small groups with representatives of the German municipalities in order to provide their feedback on the agenda for the visit, and continue detailed planning for concrete project partnerships. Based on the needs of the Lebanese municipalities, specific ideas were discussed that can be realised through funding delivered through further quick-starter packages I and II: advice on planning and constructing a biogas plant; support for establishing a health centre and dialogue on municipal prevention strategies in the health sector; cooperation to rehabilitate a large park that is jointly used by refugees and the local population; construction of a small school for refugees, and dialogue on municipal strategies to improve education for refugees. There are plans to maintain links with the village and rural development school, which is looking at the possibility of providing training on drawing up development plans or establishing a special-purpose association and its working structures. Temporary placements might also be an effective way of transferring knowledge.
Everyone involved praised the successful organisation of the visit. As well as the specific projects that are to be implemented in the near future, participants also underlined the importance of the cultural exchange, which led to an important growth in understanding during this week spent together.