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Municipalities: New Actors in Local Development

p. 112-113

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1Since 1998, the year of the first municipal elections after a 33-year-long break, municipalities have imposed themselves as essential actors in local development despite burdensome administrative and financial restrictions demanded by the central State. Many of them have found ways to bypass these limitations and have improved their population’s living environment and access to services.

2The 1,113 Lebanese municipalities strongly differ from one another in terms of size, resources and dynamism. Let us remind ourselves that the official population figures are based on the civil register, which does not match the resident population. There are no recent and reliable alternative estimates. A first group is composed of municipalities that are densely populated or experiencing population growth. Such is the case of the major cities and their suburbs, which have sufficient resources or can rely on the urbanization dynamics to generate the ones they need to act. However, they are faced with considerable social, economic and territorial challenges. A second group brings together the municipalities of small-sized localities or regions losing population, including in the peripheral and mountainous areas of the country. According to the LCPS, 43% of the municipalities have fewer than 2,000 individuals listed in their civil register. These municipalities lack resources and thus means of action. Despite these constraints, the networking strategies, incremental interventions and experimentations have improved the living environment and services provided by many municipalities to their population.

3The municipality is the only decentralized territorial level in Lebanon. It holds local power and partially avoids the control exerted by the major sectarian leaders. The local foothold enables it to rely on networks of actors or to generate additional financial support. But the affiliation to political leaders or parties often remains necessary in order to benefit from the resources of these parties and of the ministries they control within the central State. The development of collaborations transcending community barriers have sometimes enabled the implementation of projects.

Chiyah: Green and public spaces in a densely populated suburb

4Chiyah is located in the south-eastern suburb of Beirut, one of the most densely populated areas in the capital metropolitan area. In 1998, it still held the scars of the Civil War: on the demarcation line, many buildings were still in ruins. The municipal team bet on a deep change in the locality’s image with the creation of public and green spaces. The mayor, an industrialist and local figure, managed to build a network of supporters that included family clans, parishes, local trade and youth associations. Its strategy was threefold. A municipal decision authorized the temporary exploitation by the municipality of every unbuilt plots as gardens, green spaces and play areas. The municipality also set up some gardens and green spaces as well as a community center. Finally, it encouraged other actors of the network to invest in additional spaces and services (gardens, sports fields, playgrounds and coffee shops) and to participate in the life of the municipal spaces.

Figure VII-12: The development of green and public spaces in Chiyah


Ghobeiri: Providing services in informal settlements

5Ghobeiri is one of the major municipalities won over by Hezbollah in 1998, and the party wanted to turn it into a vitrine of its municipal action. More than half of the municipal territory is located within the perimeter of the ELYSSAR project, the goal of which is the reconstruction of the south-western suburb of Beirut, which includes many informal neighborhoods, under the authority of the State. Following political deadlocks in 1997, the freeze of the project de facto left the responsibility of these neighborhoods to the municipality. Even though, in theory, it cannot intervene in an informal area, it built a storm sewer system, wells, a local drinking water supply system, levees for an informal neighborhood located along the coastline, launched a pilot project of waste sorting, organized the stands of an informal market… For these actions presented as urgent and temporary, the municipality relied on the large group of associations affiliated to the party but also on the support of international development agencies.

Figure VII-13: Municipal interventions in the informal neighborhoods located in Ghobeiri


Zahle: A municipal waste treatment plant

6In Zahleh and in the Bekaa Valley, unlike other areas, waste has remained a municipal matter. Until 2005, municipalities gathered their waste in open-air landfill sites or buried them. That year, the municipality of Zahleh built a municipal waste treatment plant meeting environmental standards, a first in Lebanon. Today, this unit serves 23 localities in the central part of the Bekaa Valley, an area sitting astride several municipal unions and cazas (Zahleh and Baalbek) and inhabited by various communities. Offered at relatively cheap prices, the services provided by the plant and the sale of recycled and composted materials make it possible to cover the operating costs, the operation being outsourced to a company, and even to generate a profit margin.

Figure VII-14: Localities served by the Zahleh plant and tonnages


Dhour Choueir: A continuous and cheaper power supply

7Many municipalities are trying to control the nuisance linked to commercial generators. In 2010, the municipality of Dhour Choueir (Higher Metn) went further and chose to produce and distribute electricity itself. It can thus provide continuous electricity supply, including for street lighting, and decrease the households’ electricity bills by nearly 30%. The support of local figures that helped fund the investment was essential to the implementation of the project.

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