For decades, Jordanian and Lebanese cities have been witnessing a rapid growth and urban sprawl. Urban disparities have grown with chronically under-serviced neighbourhoods hosting large numbers of vulnerable individuals, hosts and refugees, living in precarious formal and informal environments.
Urban policy responses have been distinct. Whereas in Jordan the central state has been supporting urban informal settlements upgrading for many years, national law in Lebanon forbids Lebanese municipalities from providing basic services to informal urban zones. As a consequence, non-state actors including political parties, NGOs, and others have attempted to fill the gap. But in what ways do funding agencies interact with such actors? What challenges do they face, with what consequences?
As part of Public Authorities and Legitimacy-Making (PALM) research project undertaken by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), IMPACT Initiatives, Occlude, and ACTED, an end-of-project consultation workshop was held in Beirut on 7 August 2019. It was attended by humanitarian and development practitioners and researchers from Jordan and Lebanon to discuss key considerations for designing and implementing interventions in low-income urban areas with hybrid governance systems.
The last 5 years have seen a strong shift by international humanitarian and development agencies towards supporting municipalities in Lebanon and Jordan. Decentralisation processes in Jordan also reshape governance in urban environments. However, residents living in informal settlements, including the most vulnerable migrant and refugee populations, often fall outside the jurisdiction of state authorities allowing other neighbourhood authorities to play a greater role in some aspects of governance.
While local state governance actors have an accountability link through the national system, these local non-state actors often do not have such links, and draw their legitimacy from charisma, popularity, and service delivery, amongst others.
A number of legitimacy making practices from neighbourhood studies were displayed at the event, highlighting at times the ability of non-state actors to adopt the legitimation behaviours of the state, for example through the use of administrative or bureaucratic paraphernalia or images, the influence on market areas, labelling of services for attribution to non-state authorities, or images highlighting the charisma or character portrayed by the political figure in question.
Using a range of interactive activities, attendees from UNDP, UNHABITAT, World Vision, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the West Asia-North Africa (WANA) Institute, among others, reflected on current academic thinking and operational practices, using examples from Lebanon and Jordan, and considered the enabling role of donors in effective and accountable practices. The day culminated in a range of considerations allowing humanitarian, development, and research organizations to implement effective programmes as well as navigate grey governance structures and donor policies in fragile urban and informal areas.
Working groups within the workshop recognized how state and non-state authorities draw on a range of claims to legitimacy and in turn low-income residents expect more from non-state actors than state actors, especially when it comes to security and resources. Secondly, workshop discussants considered that it is important for international humanitarian or development actors operating in low-income urban areas with multiple public authorities to establish strong and continuous context and stakeholder analysis for effective programme design and building productive relationships ahead of programmatic interventions.
Further considerations highlighted that in these hybrid governance systems, the distinction between formal and informal actors is often not clear, with both formal and informal actors working simultaneously to influence the behavior of the other. One group of workshop participants suggested that due to the complexity of the subject and disparity of donor policies on how to operationalise projects in these complex areas, researchers, aid organizations and donors should seek out and initiate dialogue on this subject when it comes to designing their response. In particular, one donor emphasized that they would like to hear more from practitioners on the ground about their experiences in engaging with non-state actors to ensure there is active bottom up communication on issues of state vs. non-state actors, not only top-down from donors. Participants agreed that greater dialogue and research on this issue is needed, in particular as the way researchers, aid agencies and donors operate in such systems can have concrete implications for coverage of needs of highly vulnerable groups, as well as for wider peace and stability.