New approaches for pressing challenges

By Sabine Hammer

Most people who are fleeing the war in Syria find shelter in the neighbouring countries. Their host communities are facing the challenge of providing services to a growing population, especially concerning water and energy supply and waste management. In a partnership programme, German municipalities share their unique expertise with host communities in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Not too long ago, the country of Syria was associated with the gate of the Silk Road to Europe and the cradle of civilization, represented by its ancient cities of Aleppo and Damascus. Nowadays, it is hard to think about anything else but war, terror, crisis and an exodus of fleeing families. An estimated 4.8 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes since 2011 and are finding refuge in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. There, the host communities were often short of vital resources and services even before the refugee influx. For some, the number of residents has more than doubled in very little time.

In 2016, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) launched a special programme that promotes cooperative partnerships between the host communities in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and German municipalities. The programme, which is implemented by Service Agency Communities in One World (SKEW)of Engagement Global together with the Connective Cities cooperation project, is indeed an innovative one.

Turkish, Jordanian and Lebanese municipal experts will share know-how with their German counterparts – with the aim to jointly develop practical solutions to pressing challenges on the local level. Among the challenges aggravated by the sudden influx of refugees are water and energy supply, wastewater treatment, waste management, education or new administrative tasks – just to name a few. The programme is to initiate and promote bilateral projects and, ideally, long-term municipal partnerships. Participating municipalities are supported by a range of funding and human resource instruments and will be linked to the multilateral platform Connective Cities. This is to foster networking and sharing lessons learnt among a community of practitioners, both online and in face-to-face meetings. Study tours, dialogue events and project specific workshops in the participating countries also help to develop project ideas collaboratively. This peer-to-peer approach on the local level complements existing programmes targeting host communities in the region.

Jordanian municipality seeks to advance economic prosperity with better waste management

In Jordan, for example, the population has jumped by almost ten per cent with more Syrians arriving day by day. Jordan is one of the driest countries in the world – and the increasing demand for water has led to ground water levels dropping even further. Wastewater and waste management have been identified as two urgent fields for possible bilateral municipal cooperation.

Deir Alla in the Jordan Valley and the German City of Jena are making a start as two of the first municipalities entering into a partnership as part of the programme. Deir Alla has a population of 63,000, including 6,000 refugees from Syria. “We jointly want to work out a marketing plan on waste management which will advance economic promotion, too”, Amal Al-Haourat, Head of the Department Municipal Development, explained during a study visit to Germany. “The experiences of German municipalities are very helpful. It is interesting to see how they are proceeding and how independent the municipalities are when it comes to decision making.”

Only two years ago, an amendment to the Jordanian municipal law gave municipalities more competencies, including the organisation of waste collection. Municipalities were also urged to create more jobs, commit to economic growth and were allowed to found their own municipal enterprises for the first time. The exchange with Jena could not have come at a more suitable moment. German municipalities are known to run their own companies: If one thing is particular for Germany’s political and administrative system, it is the autonomy of municipalities for allocations (“kommunale Selbstverwaltung”), to organise life and services in the city independently. This principle is enshrined in the constitution. No higher level of government is allowed to take duties away from the municipalities. This system has been proven to remain strong in times of crisis – and might be an approach for those countries that have to cope with the massive influx of refugees from Syria.

Vocational training for refugees in Turkey

Turkey is hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees in the region. Most of the 2.7 million refugees have settled in the major cities or communities near the Turkish-Syrian border. A range of municipal services and infrastructure could boost through the decentralised cooperation with German partner cities. As part of the project, the cities of Mannheim and Kilis decided to join forces in the field of vocational training.

Mustafa Dedekeloglu, who is an active member of the civil society in Mannheim with roots in Kilis, has pushed the project ahead. He recalls how a delegation from Kilis was impressed when they visited a vocational school in Mannheim, not only by the equipment “but also by the interlacing of the whole education system. I think we should promote a dual vocational education and training model1, similar as it exists in Germany, much stronger.”

Kilis is located just ten kilometres off the Syrian border. It hosts more migrants than its original population. Many of the women refugees have lost their husbands and breadwinners for their families. Mannheim wants to assist with the establishment of a social centre that qualifies female refugees for simple, yet in-demand jobs.

It had been Dedekeloglu’s idea to offer direct support to the refugees in Kilis, so he and more people with roots in Turkey approached the administration of Mannheim. “They informed us about the concept of municipal partnerships.” From here on, everything went quickly; with the support of the Service Agency, representatives from Mannheim were able to travel to Kilis and conceptualise a joint partnership project, based on the specific needs of the municipality. Mannheim can also benefit from the competencies of Kilis, for example from the know-how on how to cope with such a huge number of newcomers. “We can also profit from the handicrafts produced in the social centres in Kilis and sell them in Mannheim”, says Dedekeloglu. Besides the Kilis-Mannheim project, there are 94 German-Turkish municipal partnerships.

David Linse, Head of Mannheim’s Department for Diversity, International Affairs and Protocol, recalls his first visit to Kilis: “The current conflict between Turkey and Germany was at a peak. All our dialogue partners stressed: This was a fact on a national level but should by no means impact our municipal cooperation project negatively.” When diplomacy is about interest, municipal partnerships are about the needs of people, based on experience and friendship.

Sabine Hammer

Sabine Hammer

Sabine Hammer, journalist and freelance correspondent, is specialised on municipal development cooperation, sustainability and conflict management. The German Federal President awarded her the First Media Prize on Development Policy of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). She is Special Advisor to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. José Ramos-Horta.
Sabine Hammer

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