Middle East and North Africa Regional Urban Resilience Conference

About the Conference

Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is a key proponent and early implementer of the resilience agenda in the MENA region.

Held under the Patronage of His Excellency Mr. Saad Hariri, President of the Council of Ministers of Lebanon, the Municipality of Beirut organized and hosted the MENA Regional Urban Resilience Conference in April 2019 – together with the World Bank, with support from GFDRR and in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities.

The conference followed the development of Phase I of Beirut’s urban resilience master plan, bringing together 49 municipal and national representatives from thirteen countries and territories across the MENA region (Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, West Bank-Gaza and Yemen) as well as resilience experts and practitioners from developed and developing countries beyond the region (France, Georgia, India, Italy, Japan, Panama and the United States).

The conference responded to the need for regional co-operation and common frameworks for city resilience strategies, while allowing Beirut to share its own experiences and exchange lessons learned with other cities.

What is Urban Resilience?

Resilience is the ability of a system, entity, community, or person to adapt to a variety of changing conditions and to withstand shocks while still maintaining its essential functions (World Bank 2014). While there is no standard, internationally accepted definition at the moment, generally speaking, as a city functions as a spatial convergence of multiple socioeconomic and technological systems, the resilience of a city is based on the ability of these inter-connected systems to adapt, withstand and maintain basic services in the face of a variety of hazards and shocks.

The Urban Challenge in the MENA Region

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is defined by its urbanizing, and highly concentrated populations. Sixty-five percent of the region’s inhabitants live in cities (more than 280 million people), while 92 percent are concentrated on three percent of the land. City populations are expected to nearly double by 2040, amplifying the exposure of their residents to unprecedented natural and social hazards. Against this backdrop, the region has been stricken by recent conflicts in which half-a-million people have died and fifteen million have been displaced. Refugees have often fled to already-stressed urban destinations in neighboring countries, marked by limited infrastructure, poor service delivery and high population densities. Moreover many of the region’s largest cities and urban economies are located in fragile coastal zones in which informal settlements have expanded into and degraded sensitive environments, and are prone to flooding.

The effects of urbanization, population density, conflict and displacement mesh with those of climate change and environmental degradation, intensifying their many impacts. In recent decades, this complex web of interactions has affected approximately 40 million people in MENA countries, and cost their economies nearly US$20 billion. While 2018 has seen upturns in some social and economic indicators, rapid growth of cities, and political and environmental instability confirm the region’s need for adaptation support. Risk-informed planning and urban resilience investment are critical to promoting sustainable development and poverty reduction in the MENA region.

Objectives of the MENA Regional Urban Resilience Conference

  • Strengthen the understanding of urban resilience and its implementation in the MENA region, and globally
  • Help cities understand different aspects of urban resilience (social resilience, resilience to natural disasters, and financial resilience)
  • Foster sharing among technical experts at the regional level
  • Discuss the way forward for collaboration/coordination to strengthen urban resilience in the region

Strengthening Urban Resilience in the MENA Region

Globally, urban resilience has increasingly become a fundamental platform for meeting national development goals. However, in the MENA region in particular, natural disasters and climate change are not the only resilience challenges. Economic stresses, violent conflict, displacement and refugee influxes have required a broadened approach to strengthening urban resilience, and to urban development, in general. Increasingly, the World Bank’s work on urban resilience aims to help cities move from development pathways focused on siloed, sectoral priorities, to ones focused on integrated and spatially informed approaches addressing the interplay between multiple systems and dynamics.

While most MENA countries have historically prioritized post-disaster relief and recovery activities, national and municipal governments are now working more towards proactive risk management and vulnerability reduction which anticipates the interplay between socio-economic, environmental and societal risks in urban settings. The scale of such challenges means that strengthening urban resilience in the MENA region is a multibillion dollar endeavour requiring strong partnerships and new sources of capital. However, risk-informed territorial planning and participatory approaches to decision-making are low-cost solutions that can have long-term resilience payoffs as well. Municipal policies which promote ease of business can further add to the competitiveness of MENA cities and contribute to their overall economic resilience.

Cities are often unable to implement resilience-building policies and investments because they lack the technical expertise and/or capital to finance them. Thus, a growing focus for the World Bank is to strengthen public sector capacities along this broadened approach and to foster enabling environments to mobilize public and private sector finance (in addition to development finance) towards resilience projects.

Recently, the World Bank established the City Resilience Program (CRP) in June 2017, which has engaged more than 45 cities around the world (including cities in MENA) on developing investment programs that can be supported through a range of financial instruments. In FY18, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) supported activities in more than nine MENA countries which have leveraged nearly $60 million in development finance. While work at the regional level continues, GFDRR is increasingly working at the country-level, with a greater focus on cities – given both development needs and government requests. Main hazards addressed include extreme heat, flooding and water scarcity, while a broadened approach to risk management is employed that includes crisis response, refugees as well as development in fragile, conflict and violent (FCV) settings.

65%

of the MENA population lives in cities (more than 280 million people)