This week, in-depth studies on local economic development results and outcomes were presented to the Urban Community Al-Fayhaa, the Federation of Municipalities of the Northern and Coastal Matn and the Union of Tyre Municipalities, municipalities, local community, and private sector during a series of three launching events in the targeted regions. This study is within the framework of the Municipal Empowerment and Resilience Programme(MERP) and in line with its efforts to support local authorities in addressing current socio-economic and basic service challenges. Funded by the European Union, the study is implemented by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Local Economic Development (LED) study is the first and to date the only analysis of the impact of the economic and financial crisis at the local level and its implications for unions and municipalities. “Much information, research and analysis exist at the national level in terms of economic development. Yet, it is absolutely imperative to also understand where we are in terms of economic development at the local level”, said Taina Christiansen, UN-Habitat Head of Country Programme in Lebanon.

The regional economic analysis shows that the private sector is suffering from unhinged losses and poor productivity. Faced with increasing costs, dwindling sales and a compromised production capacity, a third of the three hundred seventy-five (379) firms surveyed in the selected regions had laid off workers. 95% of the firms surveyed in the Union of Tyre Municipalities suffers from the volatility of the Lira whereas 80% of the sampled firms in Matnwitnessed a significant drop in sales and 42% had to lay off part of their workers to put a break on their losses.

The studies found that there are looming health and education crises, whereby more and more people are being barred from accessing necessary medical and educational services. Household survey and sampled firms have specifically expressed a demand for electricity provision and health services. The economic crisis has left households with major losses in income and purchasing power, malnutrition, and housing insecurity. Key figures show that 93% of Matn households have seen their living standard affected and a significant share of households consider themselves now to be poor while 91% of households in Tyre region earn in Lebanese pounds and the majority of households earn below USD120 per month.

In the Urban Community of Al-Fayhaa, 93% of households have adopted negative coping strategies related to nutrition. Furthermore, 70% of the respondents under 29 years plan to immigrate. “If emigration materializes on a large scale, the long-term outcome for human capital in the region – and across Lebanon more widely – would be devastating”, added Taina Christiansen.

The study calls for the protection of human capital, the support of local firms, the strengthening of municipal systems (institutional capacity, finance, technology), and the promotion of good territorial planning and land use practices. The LED study is a timely opportunity for unions of municipalities, the local private sector and the local community to better understand key challenges threatening sustainable economic development, mobilize support and set the foundations for an adequate response that would set the path for recovery. “This study sheds the light on the needs and priorities and can be considered as a roadmap for strategic planification for local economic development”, said Engineer Dima Homsi, on behalf of Hassan Ghamaroui, president of urban community of Al-Fayhaa.

“Despite the crises and the difficulties we are facing, the LED studyintroduced a new way of working starting with assessing people’s needs, through surveys and interactions with members of the local community. It serves as a roadmap for projects implementation” said Antoine Gebara, Vice President of the Federation of Municipalities of Northern and Coastal Matn and Mayor of Jdeideh- Bauchriye- Sedd municipality.

Hassan Dbouk, President of the Union of Tyre Municipalities stressed on the importance of working as unions: “Unions provide municipalities with mutual benefits to share knowledge, work on larger and complementary projects and benefit from economy of scale”.

Concluding her words, Taina Christiansen highlighted the criticality of local economic development for the future of the country and its economic recovery and the importance that it is done in an inclusive fashion: “We hope that the publication of this study and the disseminations of its findings contribute to the development of a serious local economic dialogue and process within the unions. A dialogue and a process that are inclusive and fair, and that include all concerned groups: official, private, informal and community actors”, said TainaChristiansen.

The research work is conducted in partnership with Union Cities of Lebanon/ Bureau Technique des Villes Libanaises with support from the Municipal Empowerment and Resilience Project (MERP). MERP is a joint initiative implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and is funded by the European Union through its Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis “Madad Fund”.

Source: National News Agency – Lebanon