The flight of five million refugees from Syria has created a crisis at global level, but no country has borne the brunt of their flight more than Lebanon, where almost one in every three persons now has escaped from Syria—a Western equivalent would be the population of Mexico (122 million) moving to the United States (320 million). Nor are Syrian refugees spread evenly across Lebanon, which is a small country: some Lebanese cities have witnessed a dramatic increase in their population, seeing it more than double.
Despite these numbers, Lebanese communities have shown an immense sense of hospitality and a collective resilience that has enabled them to accommodate so many refugees peacefully and civilly. But the influx is putting pressure on overstretched local governments, which lack the capacity and resources to adequately respond to the crisis. Basic services are under an acute amount of strain, from education and health, to water, sanitation, solid waste management and local mobility. The crisis is also having a strong impact on the labor market, with more people competing for jobs and livelihoods in a country where, in 2014, a third of the young labor force was already unemployed.
To understand the challenge, if you lived in London, Rome, or Paris, imagine the stress your local government would be under if it had to handle twice the amount of garbage, and place twice the number of children in schools that were already crowded. Think of the impact on your daily life if there was barely enough clean water or reliable electricity before the number of people using these suddenly doubled.
Lebanese communities are resilient and inclusive: receiving guests is a legendary part of their culture. But, with numbers like these, they cannot do it alone. “Helping our communities improve their living conditions and cope with the influx of Syrian refugees is not an easy mission,” says Nabil A. El-Jsir, President of Lebanon’s Council for Development and Reconstruction. “We need the support of the international community.
To address the challenges that host communities in Lebanon and their local governments are facing, the World Bank Group (WBG)—with the financial support of development partners—initiated a number of projects, including one called the Municipal Services Emergency Project that targets local governments and touches peoples’ daily lives by intervening in the key sectors that are under pressure at the local level, moving the approach to address the crisis from purely humanitarian to more development-oriented.