Helping Lebanese Communities Cope with Syrian Refugees

July 14, 2016

  • Lebanon is a small country with 4.5 million citizens. The influx of about 1.5 million Syrian refugees has added another 30% to its population, giving it the highest ratio of refugees per capita in the world.
  • The proportion of Syrian refugees is a huge burden for a small country already struggling to deliver services to local communities after 25 years of civil war.
  • An innovative project is enhancing the resilience of communities, moving from a humanitarian to a development-oriented approach, and engaging citizens in identifying priority investments.

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. 


" Helping our communities improve their living conditions and face the influx of Syrian refugees is not an easy mission, we need the support of the international community. "

Nabil A. El-Jisr

President, Council for Development and Reconstruction, Government of Lebanon

"The World Bank Group partners with Municipalities and Unions of Municipalities in Lebanon, helping local governments deliver services directly to their citizens, efficiently and in real time, and create opportunities for local economic development. This makes communities more resilient and inclusive,” says Ede Jorge Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director at the WBG.

The project begun by setting up a decision-making platform to address some of the most immediate needs in areas most affected by the crisis, moving decision-making to the level of local communities, engaging citizens in a proactive manner. The project aims to fill service delivery gaps, support social cohesion, and to finance interventions that can improve people’s daily lives, as well as contributing toward an enabling environment for development to encourage local businesses to grow. 

The project is helping deliver tangible goods, including garbage compactors, service vehicles, power generators, water filters for schools, water supply networks, sewage networks, and the rehabilitation of municipal infrastructure. Targeted interventions are having a positive impact and are appreciated by the host communities they affect. The result on people’s lives is apparent: more children can drink cleaner water in schools, more mothers have more water at home to clean and prepare healthy meals. Roads have been paved, with more farmers now able to reach their markets without losing quality of their produce. Urban life has been made safer, and more vibrant, with street lighting and community gardens that let people socialize and play in safe areas. 

“The World Bank has engaged fast and in earnest in helping Lebanon cope with the immediate needs of its population, hard hit by the Syrian crisis and the flows of unprecedented numbers of refugees. At the same time, and in parallel, the Bank continues its strong engagement on Lebanon’s mid and long term reform and development agenda,” said Ferid Belhaj, Country Director for the Middle East.

These are small results in a country needing a lot of support but we are committed to continuing initiatives like these!