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Partnership conference for German and Lebanese municipalities

From 27 February to 1 March 2017 more than 100 participants from 30 different municipalities met in Munich for the first German-Lebanese municipal partnership conference. Engagement Global's Service Agency Communities in One World organised the conference as part of the Municipal Know-How for Host Communities in the Middle East programme. The purpose of the conference was to promote project partnerships and knowledge sharing between the municipalities hosting refugees in Lebanon and German municipalities.

The conference highlighted key issues, potentials and frameworks for German-Lebanese municipal development cooperation, and facilitated the generation of ideas for possible partnership projects. It included a panel debate, various expert inputs from Lebanon and Germany, and several workshops. The Lebanese participants also had an opportunity to visit and familiarise themselves with examples of municipal projects in Munich.

Lebanon has taken in more refugees from Syria relative to the total population than any other country in the world. Currently one in four of the population is from Syria. Most of them live in local communities. The municipalities concerned face major challenges in providing basic services to the Syrian refugees. Given the rapid population growth, the infrastructure, resources and above all expertise that would be needed in order to guarantee for instance solid waste management, water supply, energy supply and local government structures, is lacking. Josef Schmid, Second Mayor of the City of Munich, Dr. Doris Witteler-Stiepelmann, Head of Division, Federal states; local authorities; development education; German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and Marwan Kallab, Honorary Consul of the Lebanese Republic in Frankfurt a.M., opened the conference.

The panel debate that followed focused on the history and the links between displacement, development and municipal partnerships in Lebanon. Dr Witteler-Stiepelmann explained the Municipal Know-How for Host Communities in the Middle East programme in the context of the extensive portfolio of German development cooperation with Lebanon in the priority areas of municipal infrastructure, education and economic development. The purpose of the BMZ programme is to foster mutual exchange and generate ideas for joint projects to improve the situation in the host communities, said Dr Witteler-Stiepelmann. Dr Eva-Maria Unger from the Bavarian State Chancellery talked about three vocational training projects in Lebanon that Bavaria is currently implementing in cooperation with local partners.

Kurt Baudach, Department Head at the Service Agency, provided a concise description of the programme, including its objectives and instruments, and explained how it works. Yehia Daher from the Lebanese municipality of Quraoun described the current situation in the country and the challenges created by the refugee crisis. Markus Reichart, Mayor of Heimenkirch, reported on the engagement for Lebanon of five municipalities in the Westallgäu region. This engagement is being supported by the Municipal Know-How for Host Communities in the Middle East programme, and is now also backed up by council resolutions. Following a visit to Lebanon by a delegation in November 2017, delegates from municipalities in Lebanon will be visiting the Allgäu region in May 2018.

Day two of the conference began with Dr Stefan Wilhelmy, Director of the Service Agency, outlining the tasks of municipal development cooperation and the services offered by the Service Agency. In her welcome address Sabine Drees, Officer for International Affairs at the Association of German Cities, called for a stronger presence of municipalities in the 2030 Agenda process. The topics of the 2030 Agenda will also be important for the new project partnerships that will hopefully arise between German municipalities and Lebanese host municipalities, she said. This was followed by presentations on the situation in Lebanon and the situation in the municipalities by André Sleiman, Country Representative at Democracy Reporting International (DRI), and Saleh Abou Mansour, President of the Jabal El-Sheikh Union. Matthias Bettenhäuser then reported on the beneficial lessons learned by the City of Jena in its municipal partnership with the Jordanian town of Deir Alla.

With all this in mind, the participants set off on a gallery walk. The municipal delegates from Germany and Lebanon welcomed each other to a communicative tour of the galleries, which were created using mobile screens containing information on their respective municipalities. This gave participants an opportunity to find out more about the support offered by the Municipal Know-How for Host Communities in the Middle East programme. They were also able to familiarise themselves with its implementation, and possible cooperation with non-governmental organisations, by looking at the example of the municipal project partnership between Mannheim and Kilis. Connect sessions also gave participants an opportunity to get to know each other, before going on to generate ideas for projects and reach first agreements on possible cooperation.

During the final discussion participants formulated the impressions, results and intentions which they would be taking back to their municipalities from the conference. Here it became clear that the conference had made a successful contribution towards building trust and creating a shared framework of expectations for long-term cooperation. The challenges participants saw involved reservations regarding the security situation in Lebanon and the travel restrictions associated with that on the German side, as well as the bureaucratic structures on the Lebanese side. Overall, however, participants were optimistic that expertise-sharing partnerships and partnership projects between German and Lebanese municipalities would materialise in the future.

You will find the video in our media centre.