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Opinion

Donor interventions toward public authority in Jordan and Lebanon

Published on 12 September 2019

IMPACT Initiatives

The Syrian Crisis has caused the influx of over 900,000 refugees to Lebanon and over 650,000 to Jordan as of June 2019. In Jordan, 80% of Syrian refugees live outside of established refugee camps, while Lebanon adopted a policy against encampment altogether. As such, refugees in both countries are clustered heavily in a few urban areas, in particular, Amman and Beirut, as well as smaller cities near the Syrian border. Many of these refugees have taken up residence in low-income urban areas, where local services were already strained before the crisis and these neighbourhoods face numerous stress factors for tension between refugees and the existing or ‘host’ population. These include rapid rises in rent prices, competition for low-skilled jobs and competition for services and aid.

These same neighbourhoods have complex urban governance processes, characterised by a variety of public authorities competing for resources and legitimacy. In Jordan, urban neighbourhoods may be spaces of competition between municipal leaders, parliamentarians, tribal actors, community-based organizations and Islamist parties. In Lebanon, sectarian parties and welfare organizations in particular play a large role in local governance, alongside municipalities and sometimes tribes.

The Public Authority and Legitimacy Making (PALM) project, led by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), with IMPACT Initiatives, ACTED Lebanon and Occlude, is currently exploring the legitimacy making practices of these public authorities and their effect on host-refugee relations. As a part of this study, a directed literature review, using publicly available donor documents, was conducted by IMPACT to understand the main donor interventions toward, and assumptions about, different types of authorities in low-income urban areas. In addition, key informant interviews with major donors to Jordan and Lebanon were carried out to complement the literature review. Several interim findings are emerging:

Increasing the legitimacy of municipalities and their inclusion of vulnerable groups is the main focus of most donor interventions

The public authority which receives the most assistance and attention from donors are municipalities. Most interventions seek to legitimise municipalities by improving their ability to provide services, but also by increasing the participation of vulnerable groups in municipal governance. The assumption underpinning many of these programmes is that if host communities feel they are being governed by a trusted authority, they will have more positive attitudes towards refugees and government in general.

However, the study has found that these interventions have limited reach in some low-income urban areas. For one thing, the capacity of municipalities in both Lebanon and Jordan is limited by small budgets, much of which comes from the central government. In Jordan, major municipal reforms focusing on decentralisation occurred during the refugee crisis, creating confusion around responsibility and a lack of capacity. In Lebanon studies of highly affected low-income neighbourhoods have found that municipalities have small or, in some cases, no presence. These factors limit the extent to which the municipal strengthening programs affects urban low-income areas.

With non-state public authorities, donors prioritise programming with actors seen as inclusive of vulnerable groups

The literature review found that most programmes do not discuss other types of public authorities, such as tribes and sectarian actors, despite the large role that these actors play in governing public life. Only four documents from Jordan mentioned tribes by name. One key donor informant explained that they do not work through the tribal system because they typically exclude minority groups such as Syrian refugees, Palestinians and women.

The one programme which directly addressed tribal governance attempted to shift their governing to be more inclusive. In practice, however, implementing partners are frequently working with tribal leaders since they represent a large portion of the community leaders in much of Jordan, and play a central role in mediating tensions between groups such as hosts and refugees. There are some indications that donors take a similar view toward sectarian service providers in Lebanon.

In Lebanon, the humanitarian response has faced the additional challenge that in many Western countries, aid to some Lebanese political parties is banned by anti-terrorism law. These policies create restrictions on assistance to, or contact with, a variety of public authorities in Lebanon, including party members, certain charities, and some municipalities. This results in some high-need urban neighbourhoods connected to certain political parties becoming more difficult for aid actors to access.

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