This article is based on interviews conducted during the CMI Training Workshop on Strategic Planning for Local Economic Development in Forced Displacement Contexts; Amman, Jordan; March 19-23, 2018.
Since 2016, local government representatives and members of the CMI-managed Host Municipalities Learning Network (HLMN) meet face-to-face or online periodically. Members from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Turkey exchange their experiences in dealing with a high influx of refugees and learn new methodologies. The latest workshop focused on Strategic Planning for Local Economic Development (LED). This theme was chosen by members of the network themselves and was considered highly important and timely for improving the lives of refugees and host communities alike. Each country, however, needs to deal with the refugee influx differently and draws its LED plan starting from local resources and comparative advantages. In this matter, there is no solution that fits all.
“The main challenge in Jordan is the limited experience among municipal staff on how to develop and implement a comprehensive Local Economic Development plan. This workshop is crucial for [municipal] employees to actually open their eyes and see what a LED plan is, what the steps needed, and elements are, and who should be involved in the plan. Normally they used to do a plan on themselves, without involving any stakeholders. The majority of municipalities host a large number of Syrian refugees, and they [the refugees] should be part of the plan as well. Finally, all sectors of the society have to be considered, especially women and youth. This workshop teaches how to do all this, therefore it is crucial for Jordanian municipalities”; Mr. Imad Issa, Advisor and Coordinator for the Jordan Municipal Services and Social Resilience Project (MSSRP) at the Jordanian Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MoMA), said.
In forced displacement contexts, it is crucial to know how to smartly adapt a town’s LED strategy to the increased demand for goods, jobs, and services. A good plan can also benefit social cohesion and ease tensions and competition over resources. For a plan to succeed, a situation assessment is a needed point to start from. “Qrayeh is a medium-sized city with a long historical heritage” Mr. Maroun Antoun, Mayor of Qrayeh Municipality, Lebanon, said. “After the influx of refugees, we faced a lack of basic services as many other towns in Lebanon: electricity, sewage, etc. We now must come up with innovative solutions. We are hosting 1,000 Syrian refugees (about 20% of initial inhabitants), which is one more burden on top of the issues we already face. The municipality has many lands to exploit and once used to have a flourished economy of harvesting and olive oil. Now, that economy stopped as trade is too expensive. There is a high unemployment rate of 30% for both Syrians and Lebanese, with lot of graduated youth who cannot find a job."
In Turkey, Syrian refugees face different barriers than in Jordan or Lebanon: “The biggest problem is the language barrier, which also affects the registration process and their knowledge of their individual rights. The foreign relations department [of Sancaktepe Municipality] is implementing programs aiming at helping refugees understand the Turkish law system, humanitarian aid, employment, and education systems” Mr. Yunus Kul, Director of Foreign Relations Department of Sancaktepe Municipality, Turkey, said.
While municipalities in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey need to adjust their LED plans to deal with the high influxes of Syrian refugees, other countries in the Middle East face different issues.
Palestinian municipalities face the two challenging issues of displacement and movement restrictions. They need to plan a LED strategy considering these limits and exploiting their opportunities. Raida Hanania, SDIP [Strategic Development Investment Plan] Coordinator, Director of Quality Management Unit and General Secretary of the LED Council of Bethlehem district, says: “In Bethlehem we have limited areas to work on. The main sector is tourism, and tourism-related entreprises play a crucial role in developing the local economy. However, the tourism sector can be effected negatively by the unstable political situation. The LED Council focuses on establishing an effective network and coordination with all relevant sectors to develop and enhance the competitiveness of local products, through participation of women in the economic life and promotion of leadership spirit among the youth in Bethlehem governorate. “Our main goal is to provide an encouraging environment to enhance and develop the production and marketing capacity of local products in small and medium enterprises in order to create jobs and decrease the unemployment rate on the long run and indirectly make the local economy flourish”.
In Iraq, municipalities are striving to recover their LED environment in general while focusing on job creation: “We currently are in the aftermath of the liberation of areas occupied by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Now Internally Displaced People (IDPs) are starting to return to their home and to work again. We want to create jobs for returnees. For example, Mosul was destroyed from ISIL: we established a plan for stabilizing the area and started supporting the creation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to give incentives to people to settle down” Ms. Asia Mohammad Hassan, General Director of Physical Planning, Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, Iraq, said.
“The CMI Refugees and Host Communities Program won a grant from the South-South Facility to support a programmatic cross-regional knowledge exchange for future work on LED in forced displacement contexts.” As part of this program a small delegation of municipal representatives from Afghanistan joined the HMLN for the first time. They learned how to develop a sound LED strategy, based on the experiences of their peers from the Middle East and Turkey, and they also brought their different experiences and perspectives in dealing with forced displacement.
Afghanistan is a post-conflict country with an overlapping situation of Afghan IDPs, returnees from Pakistan and Iran, and some Pakistani refugees. This is weighing heavily on the Capital, Kabul, faced with an “economic hit due to the large number of people coming back” explains Mr. Shoaib Rahim, Deputy Mayor of the city: “Our challenge is making sure that those families returning to Afghanistan are able to provide for their livelihoods and settle down. The major issues are the limited housing and high unemployment”.
In other areas of Afghanistan, conflicts are still ongoing. Mr. Roshaan Wolusmal, Mayor of Kandahar, said: “Our first challenge is to ensure security and stability to our area. However, unfortunately Taliban are still undermining the stability and lives of many. At the same time, 39% of city inhabitants are unemployed and many live below the poverty line. As a Municipality, we try to solve it and propose different solutions to improve our situation”.
As for every other country, Afghan municipalities need to build on existing strengths to explore opportunities for increased LED. 75% of Afghanistan population is aged between 18 and 35: Afghanistan is a young country with unique circumstances. As Mr. Rahim remarked, “If we turned the displacement situation into an opportunity, the money and resources brought by IDPs and returnees would boost the local economy and create job opportunities for everyone. If we are not able to provide education and jobs, all these young people will result in crime and extremism”.
How can municipal representatives benefit from the activities of the HMLN?
The methodology and learning material shared during HMLN activities benefit the work of municipal decision makers as well as municipal staff working in the field of LED, with the aim to help them contribute to and influence a better economic environment in all forced displacement contexts: whether including refugees, IDPs, or returnees. As acknowledged by Ms. Hanania: “It is a very brilliant opportunity for me to invest in order to improve my responsibilities toward my city, my municipality, and my district. I can actually invest the methodology and tools of this workshop during my daily job in order to improve my skills and to achieve the best results concerning Bethlehem’s strategic plan”.
Although the context of HMLN member municipalities may seem different, they all share similar issues and the willingness to do better. “Although Afghanistan doesn’t have the same problems of MENA countries and Turkey, the exchange is absolutely useful”, Mr. Shoaib Rahim pointed out. “Some of these countries have very successful experiences in dealing with displaced population, such as Turkish municipalities, and all of them have a different spectrum of solution that we could apply in Afghanistan. More has been tested there, we can see the results of these programs and, if they work, we can try to implement them back in our local situation”.
Despite differences between and within countries, a cross-border knowledge exchange is extremely useful to enable generating innovative solutions to face the forced displacement crisis. Although Mr. Kul is new to the HMLN, he acknowledged that: “the HMLN is the most effective thing for us, as we don’t have many chances to work together, networking among and within countries, and collaborate”. As one of the core HMLN members from its very inception, Mr. Issa acknowledged that “the CMI has been very helpful in the last 3 years in spreading knowledge among Jordanian municipalities both participating or not in the World Bank MSSRP by providing technical assistance to municipal staff and employees”.
For Mr. Antoun, “The HMLN is an opportunity to widen our choices by getting to know new experiences and exchange ideas with our peers. Small ideas can give you big solutions about a problem you are facing”. Similarly, Ms. Tuğba Acar, Project Coordinator of WALD, Turkey acknowledged: “[the HMLN] is beneficial for me as I had the chance to learn their perspectives and experiences about different topics, not only during workshop sessions, but also during social activities we had. This made me think at what kind of model can be implemented in each country, as there are different perspectives and problems in each country”.
By getting together to discuss and exchange new ideas on a regular basis, municipalities hosting forcibly displaced can find solutions to the crisis, while empowering their populations and giving hope to the displaced.