IGP Stories

Infrastructural solutions for Lebanon’s turbulent times

RELIEF Work Infrastructure

Mariam Daher

12 January 2022

Lebanon's severe economic crisis and political instability has had a devastating impact on people's livelihoods. The crisis has led to critical deficits in the infrastructural provision and essential public services, from electricity cuts and fuel shortages to pressures on the physical and social infrastructures.

‘Infrastructural Solutions for Lebanon's turbulent times: research, innovations and interventions’ explored current research around the challenges in waste, wastewater, energy and the built environment in Lebanon, and highlighted diverse methods to address these challenges.

The symposium was co-organised with the British Academy and took place on 23 November 2021. It was designed as a transdisciplinary dialogue about research policy and action on the ground, from the perspective of academics, entrepreneurs, NGOs and citizen social scientists.

In the welcome session, Professor Henrietta L. Moore posed the questions “What are the current and future possibilities for any kind of post crisis recovery? And how can we use the potentiality of research and innovation and interventions to deliver positive change for quality of life?”

During a session on ‘Discarding Infrastructures: Waste Politics in Lebanon and Beyond’, there was an anthropological review of waste workers in Beirut following the trajectory of young boys selling scrap metal picked from waste bins as the only means of survival in a deteriorating country, while on the other hand a game around waste was used as a means of strengthening a community’s cohesion and finding natural based solutions to the challenges they pinpointed, in a participatory inclusive and playful way. A narrated slideshow of the waste crisis in Palestine linked it to the political situation of occupied Palestinians.

The ‘Water and Energy Synergies and Policies’ panel targeted challenges at the national level: a presentation was given on a potential solution to solving Lebanon’s electricity challenges through unbundling the electricity sector, and another was given on wastewater treatment plants and the potential of informing the wastewater national plan, also linking the importance of forwardly thinking about a green transition through the food-water-energy nexus. Commentaries were provided by the adviser to the minister of Energy and Water and the UNDP’s energy consultant in Lebanon on the challenges and potential of these projects.

The last panel on ‘Citizen-led interventions for Lebanon’s infrastructural challenges’ focused on citizen-led interventions in the context of research on infrastructural challenges, post-recovery construction, and pathways to prosperity. Four presentations shed light on the importance of participatory research that includes citizens, their perspectives and contributions along the different stages of the projects. From the work on the Hamra prosperity index, to the reconstruction of the Karantina neighborhood post blast, to the spatial interventions of Bar Elias and Mina, all speakers highlighted the importance and impact of co-creating interventions with citizens, as this ensures the embeddedness of the interventions within the communities they are meant to serve, and therefore their sustainability.

The symposium concluded with remarks from Professor Henrietta Moore on the importance of keeping up with these projects, while framing them as practical solutions to the political changes needed for Lebanon and consolidating the local and international coalitions already in place, to support Lebanon’s recovery.

“Any form of resources - waste, electricity, water - is always intricately linked to power and exclusion, including processes of racialization and ethnicization that consolidate and sediment social inequalities… when you are investigating this material you are effectively trying to open up the systems of closure, to work away from those forms of social inequality, towards various visions of social justice which need to be articulated within the research itself.”

Credit of Cover Image: Anne Nygård on Unsplash

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