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Bioforce deepens its engagement in Lebanon through an innovative project

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Bioforce decided to partner with the French think tank Groupe URD and the Lebanese NGO North LEDA and focus on capacity building for local humanitarian actors.

Torn between armed conflicts and repetitive crises, Tripoli struggles to recover. Weakened by a deleterious political, economic and security situation, this city of North Lebanon, 30 kilometres away from the Syrian border, est strongly affected by the inflow of refugees ever since the Syrian conflict started in 2011. There are around 200 and 300 000 refugees, according to the UN, who believes the city’s population has increased by 35 to 50%. This adds to an already failing infrastructure, and half the residents today live below the poverty line.

Already strong during the Lebanese civil war, social and religious tensions have persisted over the years, and are still prevailing today. Between 2008 and 2014, several armed clashes have erupted between the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods, respectively mainly Sunni and Alawite. It would be inaccurate, however, to reduce this hostility to a mere religious perspective. Rival political affiliations, which oppose both supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, contribute to an already explosive context.

These clashes have left scars still visible today, five years after the ceasefire. Despite multiple initiatives by the Tripoli municipality, as well as local and international NGOs on the field, weak institutions and a lack of coordination between various actors do not allow them to efficiently help vulnerable populations in the city and around it.

Taking the Lead

An innovative project, led by the French NGO Bioforce, the think tank Groupe URD and the Tripolitan NGO North LEDA, has the ability to turn things around. This three-year project is the first to use the methodological framework of the Taking the Lead (TTL) initiative. Jointly developed by Bioforce and Oxfam in 2017, TTL’s objective is to help civil society organizations (CSO) and the municipality identify their own priorities in terms of organization and collective reinforcement. It aims to be a process driven by the local actors themselves, in order to replace them at the centre of the humanitarian response on their own territory.

Better communication, better organization, to help better. A significant challenge, considering there are more than 3 000 CSOs on the field in the area. But better communication isn’t the only obstacle that civil society faces, according to Liliane Nasrallah, Bioforce’s country program coordinator in Lebanon. “CSOs rely way too much on donors’ projects, and therefore didn’t have a chance yet to independently build their capacities. When the self-assessment phase started for the CSOs at the beginning of our project, we have noticed that for the aforementioned reasons, these organizations have drifted away from their original purposes to meet those of the donors. For example, a CSO specialized in children protection can implement a project in a different field like health or agriculture”, she specifies.

Such an initiative can be met with distrust by local humanitarian actors, who might need convincing about yet another project from an international organization. But the tools developed within TTL are not like other tools used so far. They encourage CSOs to take matters into their own hands and self-assess their organizational capacities. Meanwhile, Bioforce supports them without interfering with the process. “They have seen the difference with TTL, because it involves the whole organization’s work, not just a program or a department. It is not only encouraging to see them interested in the tool, but also to see every CSO’s entire team meeting for the first time to discuss their purpose, their role, their strong points as well as their weaknesses as an organization”, adds Liliane Nasrallah.

Tense context

Moreover, Johanna Baché, from Groupe URD, in charge of supporting the Tripoli municipality during the project, believes that the main challenge “lies in the ability to have all the actors - within the Municipality itself, but also between the elected officials and CSOs - at the same table, in order to stimulate constructive talks about establishing a perennial coordination and crisis management mechanism”.

The tense current context adds to the issues. The city’s municipality stayed without a president for weeks, making future events difficult to predict, according to Johanna Baché. A new mayor, quite active in the associative world, has just been elected for the next three years. These recent developments give hope regarding the implementation of planned activities for the Municipality of Tripoli, so that all the initially targeted Tripolitain humanitarian actors are recognized and strong enough to face the crises on their territory.