Increasing demand for additional public services is always challenging for any developing nation. At local level, the situation is indeed even pressing since urban settlements are usually at the forefront in hosting displaced individuals due to complex emergencies, natural disasters and humanitarian crisis. Sudden and significant increase in population might worsen the existing challenges with respect to basic public services delivery, with already strained capacity in infrastructure and superstructure. Firefighting capacities, emergency response, parks and gardens management, trash pick-up and storage, solid waste, wastewater treatment; imagine all the services that you might expect from your hometown’s local administration to be at stake. This might create serious public health, environmental and social cohesion related risks, business and economic losses, intra-community tensions.

UNDP is helping Turkish municipalities, local people and displaced Syrians for strengthening the capacity and quality of the municipal services in the regions affected by the ongoing Syria crisis. And it attracts nation-wide attention. 12 prominent journalists payed a visit to Hatay region, where ratio of the Syrian population accounts for around 25%. The beautiful province, which has been known as the “Cradle of civilisations”, famous with its rich culture of tolerance and hospitality, is now hosting the largest Syrian population after Istanbul, Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep. And the city, together with its people and institutions, is striving to cope with its limited resources and recover from the negative effects of the ongoing Syria crisis. And UNDP is part of the solution.

Are you curious about the deep and direct correlation between sustainable development, resilience, even crisis response, and municipal service delivery? Buckle-up your seats, we are taking you to Hatay, Turkey’s “Crisis response laboratory”, to see what we have achieved on the ground. To witness what difference development assistance and cooperation might create, when right approach, policies, strategy, planning and instruments are in place.    

“UNDP is in a different position within the UN bodies. It is the only organization working to strengthen the infrastructure of municipalities and has the human resources to execute the project all the way; such as engineers, purchasing specialists etc. It communicates with local institutions through its experienced teams, produces projects that will meet the needs and goes for fund-seeking.”

Wrote Ms. Gila Benmayor, one of the most important columnists and opinion makers, expert on sustainability, civil society and development areas in the major Turkish newspaper, Hürriyet. Her article series were published right after a large press delegation visited Hatay province to witness how UNDP’s European Union (EU) funded projects change lives of thousands of people in regions affected by the ongoing Syria crisis. 12 representatives from major national medias, including a television team, attended the two days long press trip. Mr. Sukhrob Khojimatov, UNDP Turkey Deputy Resident Representative, led the UNDP team in the field and hosted members of the press.

The groups composed of senior UNDP project people, field teams, representatives of the Hatay Municipality and İlbank, from different departments and affiliated institutions, who are the beneficiaries and partners of the project. Boots on the ground for two days, we all witnessed the progress of an integrated project, that aims to strengthen people, communities and institutions towards sustainable development and resilience.

To begin with, increasing demand for additional public services is challenging for any developing nation, we know it. Sudden increase in population due to natural disasters, complex emergencies or humanitarian crisis, puts more pressure on national and local administrations. Once the crisis hits a region, people naturally seek refuge in a secure environment; sometimes within their countries, sometimes abroad. As a result, cities and their people are now at the forefront in hosting displaced individuals. And providing good quality municipal services is truly difficult, yet crucial for any city.

It is even much harder for the municipalities, to continue providing basic services, where infrastructure, superstructure, service delivery capacities and technical expertise were already stretched before the arrival of the refugees. The sudden influx of population might seriously harm sustainable development efforts. And it might create tension between displaced individuals and their host communities; unless both communities’ needs are satisfied. UNDP is the only UN Agency in Turkey, providing direct support to municipalities on waste management and municipal services, including infrastructure development and technical support. In Hatay, the ratio of the Syrian population accounts for around 25%, the province hosting the largest Syrian population after Istanbul, Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep.

There comes in UNDP’s added value in crisis response and resilience. In fact, infrastructure projects, regardless of the scale, are one of the biggest items in municipalities’ budgets. Facilities, equipment, vehicles, transfer stations, collectors, wastewater treatment plants; to serve provinces and their people. All are crucial for a healthy, sustainable and prosperous society, which is already thriving to cope with its own development challenges, together with millions of displaced people. And these investments are costly.

For example, only through solid waste transfer stations, UNDP both increases the city’s compliance with EU standards, providing more environmental protection and tries to ease the financial burden on municipalities caused by the sudden population growth.

Underlining that municipalities, whose resources and capacities are already limited, are struggling to tackle problems, including health and environmental issues such as waste (garbage, solid waste, wastewater, etc.) generation and management, which come together with population growth, Mr. Sukhrob Khojimatov, UNDP Turkey Deputy Resident Representative, who was on the ground zero with his team, highlighted financial dimension of the situation: “The total additional waste generated in the Southeast Region is more than 1 million tons per year and the annual cost of only transporting solid waste exceeds 25 million USD. According to surveys, municipalities, which in the Southeast of Turkey and in the provinces hosting refugees as many as 20 percent of their population, will need an additional 215 million USD annually in order to reach the capacity to meet the growing demand for services”.

Numbers do matter. Especially when it comes from a senior development professional. This sheds light on the financial burden and infrastructure investment perspective. Ms. Benmayor’s article complements Mr. Khojimatov’s words; “As you see, the gap is large.”

“Leave no one behind”: UNDP improves the quality of life both for “host communities” and Syrians in border provinces" was the title of another article published by Ms. Gonca Tokyol, a senior editor at prominent digital news site, T24.  She wrote “UNDP alleviates the pressure on local governments while enabling refugees to be self-reliant”.

“Self-reliance” is the magical word in humanitarian crisis context. It is key to recovery, sustainable development and resilience at all levels. Same for the people, same for the institutions and cities. This is where efforts for empowering communities and institutions begin.

According to recent data, more than 97% of Syrians in Turkey live in cities, side by side with their Turkish neighbours. Local administrations and municipalities are exposed to increasing pressure especially in meeting the growing demand for municipal services due to the sudden population growth caused by the Syria crisis. There are four municipalities in Turkey’s southeast, hosting over 100,000 Syrian individuals under temporary protection in the provinces close to the border areas. The ratio of Syrian individuals living in these provinces, among which there are Kilis, Hatay, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa, ranges from 10% to 90%. And UNDP is currently present in all these provinces.

The situation is already challenging at local level. Recently released regulations have expanded metropolitan municipalities’ responsibilities to cover district and village level services, which has added new pressure to the demand side. As a matter of course, the rapid and sudden population growth brings an additional burden to the municipalities, from infrastructure to superstructure, from transportation services to green areas, from solid waste management to water management. This is so, because the share that the municipalities receive from the central government budget is based on the number of citizens. And refugees are not considered in the allotment of the budget. Yes, Turkish municipalities, especially in border regions, are indeed facing serious challenges with their already limited capacities. And UNDP helps them.

“Population is increasing but the income of the municipality is not. Therefore, UNDP's project, which I mentioned above, aims to reduce the pressure of the Syria crisis on the cities as well as to integrate the refugees into the society.” continued Ms. Benmayor. She was one of the most enthusiastic members of the group climbing up the hills for a better view of the construction sites, talking to project people and UNDP personnel, under a desert-like Hatay heat. Her two days of series of articles followed suite; “Producing solutions to environmental problems, local municipalities, Ilbank (Turkey’s regional development institution) and UNDP work to enable Syrians to be self-sufficient and self-reliant.”

“Of the 50 million euros that the UNDP secured a financing from the European Union Trust Fund (EUTF), 22.5 million euros are dedicated to strengthening the municipal infrastructure. The project covers Hatay, Şanlıurfa, Kilis and Gaziantep. The construction continues, in cooperation with Ilbank, for solid waste transfer stations in Yayladağı and Kırıkhan in Hatay which we visited. The waste transfer station in Reyhanlı district was activated. UNDP has built 6 waste transfer stations in the Southeast through different funds to date.”

“If you ask, ‘what these stations do’, they prevent wild landfill.” wrote another media representative; Ms. Fatoş Karahasan from CNN Turk. Quoting from the Project Manager, Mr. Sertaç Turhal, she said “Small solid waste collection trucks of district municipalities come to the station and transfer the waste to large lorries provided by UNDP to Hatay Municipality. Waste is thus transported for sorting from the districts to the centre in Hatay.”

“As Mr. Turhal points out, solid waste is in fact a value and it is possible to return it to the economy by recycling it or producing biogas from organic material. UNDP provides such an opportunity and technical support to Hatay Municipality. We saw Hatay pillar of the support that the project provided to the municipalities under the burden of the Syria crisis. UNDP's projects such as solid waste and wastewater management contribute significantly to Hatay, Kilis, Urfa and Gaziantep municipalities hosting Syrian refugees.” Solid observations of a journalist with simple, yet strong words, conveyed our messages to tens of thousands of households in Turkey. And this was the intention in the first place.

“UNDP aims to increase the living standards of both host communities and Syrians by implementing a resilience-based sustainable development policy within the framework of post-crisis management. The objective of ‘Turkey Resilience Project in Response to the Syria Crisis' (TRP), which is financed by the European Union (EU), is to bring long-term solutions for the problems faced by municipalities and local governments” wrote Ms. Gonca Akyol of T24. The real value of a well-designed project in crisis response and resilience that aims to benefit both displaced people fleeing war and tragedy and their host communities. You can ask; “What’s the relation between collecting garbage and enabling social cohesion between communities?” Well, above are the answers to this question.

Still asking “Why solid waste, why is UNDP involved...?” Let’s simplify it. Mr. Sertaç Turhal, who is in charge of the Municipal Service Delivery component of the project answers: “UNDP has always had an integrated approach. While we are deciding on a project, we work with the Government of Turkey, in line with Turkey's own development goals and according to the needs of the municipalities. Solid waste transfer stations are part of this. To date, in the Southeast, we have completed 6 solid waste transfer plants, we are building 2 more and if we take into account the plants of the municipalities in addition to our 8 stations, this will be the first region of which solid waste transfer problem is solved in Turkey.”

There are several reasons why this project is important. UNDP does not only construct the stations, but also purchases the vehicles that will provide the transfer and delivers them to the municipality. Only Yayladağı district has a population of 60,000 producing 65-70 tons of solid waste every day. This waste needs to be transferred to the centre but since the municipality does not possess the adequate financial resources, they are not able to transfer the solid waste. So, the waste is being dumped into the sites called wild landfill. In these areas, effluent is mixed with underground water sources, hence causes health risks; biogas with economic value is released into the atmosphere as methane and becomes greenhouse gas and poses a risk of explosion. UNDP’s overall aim is to transfer the waste from wild landfill and both to eliminate the environmental threats posed by wild landfill areas and to ensure that municipalities can make financial gains even from the garbage.

When the stations are completed, Southeast Anatolia region where UNDP operates through these projects will be Turkey's first region that solves the solid waste transfer problem. UNDP's EU funded project includes the construction of 4 solid waste transfer stations in Reyhanlı, Kırıkhan, Yayladağı and Samandağ districts. Of these projects, the one in Reyhanlı was completed, those in Kırıkhan and Yayladağı are under construction, the station in Samandağ district will be mobile.  When all the projects are completed, the institutional infrastructure of solid waste transfer processes in Hatay province will be completed at a rate close to 90 percent with the support provided by UNDP.

The number of Turkish citizens who will benefit from the investments is 384,532 and this number for Syrians will increase to 486,433 persons. The project including three solid waste transfer vehicles and one backhoe loader to be granted to each station, both provides significant improvements in environmental clean-up and public health and removes the burden of 8.5 million TRY in total from the budget of Hatay Metropolitan Municipality; annual savings of 3 million TRY, provided by the vehicles granted to the institution represents the “Cherry on the cake”, according to one journalist.

Another important facility we visited on waste management, is the wastewater treatment plant in Hassa. The facility is planned to be completed in October; 4,000 cubic meters of water will be treated daily. This is an important step to prevent pollution in Asi River, where Hassa's sewerage is discharged currently. Maybe it is not possible to entirely clean Asi River, which is rising in Lebanon and flowing into the sea in Turkey after running through Syria, but through the plant, which will meet the need of wastewater treatment and waste management of approximately 60,000 people in Hassa region, it is aimed to reduce a number of important health and environmental risks, including groundwater pollution.

Once the project is completed, a total of 31,567 people, 24,954 of which are local and 6,613 of which are Syrians, will directly benefit from the wastewater plant. The implementation of the project of 3,279,000 USD with financial support from EU will enable municipalities' own funds to be re-directed to other investment projects.

Another local institution that UNDP contributes to, is the fire brigade of Hatay Metropolitan Municipality, already operating with insufficient capacity. Two fire-fighting vehicles and a water tanker were granted to Hatay Fire Brigade, of which field of activity expanded. Stating that the first 3 minutes are vital for an intervention during fire, firefighters say their emergency response capacities have increased through the vehicles provided by UNDP. UNDP’s vehicle support made a significant contribution both to intervention in areas where Syrians live with a higher probability of fire due to traditional heating methods and clearing up existing problems of local population.

It is thought that two first-response vehicles granted to the fire brigade were used in more than 200 incidents in 2018; this number corresponds to 25 percent of fires occurring throughout the district and 4.1 percent of fires occurring throughout the province. By this calculation, the number of people benefiting from fire-fighting vehicles stands more than 470,000.

The donated water tanker is used for large-scale fire incidents as well as for water distribution and street irrigation. The vehicle provided by UNDP is the only tanker used for these tasks in Antakya and is also used in Defne, another central district. According to 2018 data, water tanker was used in 4,262 water distribution missions and 1,925 street sprinkling missions; which corresponds to 25.66% and 17.50% of the water supply/distribution and street sprinkling missions in the province, respectively. It is thought that the irrigation vehicle serves more than 660,000 people a year.

“Just as Turkish or Syrian does not matter to fire; there is no statistics on whether people whom the vehicles serve are from the host country or from refugees. The officials at Hatay Fire Brigade give the figures in total; which in fact shows how meaningful is the UNDP project aiming at the collective development of both host citizens and Syrians.” said Ms. Akyol in her article.

Let’s close the story with one important international happening on building local resilience, strengthening sustainable development and showcasing international best practises in post crisis management, recovery and crisis response.

As Gila Benmayor stated; “Before 2019 ends, there are two platforms that Turkey will describe its experiences with the Syrian refugee crisis. The first one is the International Forum of Municipalities to be held in Gaziantep on November 26-27 in cooperation with UNDP, Gaziantep Municipality, the World Academy of Local Authorities and Democracy (WALD), the Union of Municipalities of Turkey (UMT), United Cities and Local Governments Middle East and West Asia Section (UCLG-MEWA), IOM and UNHCR. More than 50 municipalities from different countries are expected to participate in this. The second one is the Global Refugee Forum to be held in Geneva on 17-18 December. Turkey is the co-chairman of this forum.”

As final word, sustainable development projects that UNDP builds on the basis of resilience, provide an overall increase in living conditions in the cities most affected by the refugee crisis, setting a leading example of how social cohesion can be constructed, as the UN’s 2030 Agenda slogan says, “Leave no one behind ...”

Do you see now the direct correlation between municipal service delivery, sustainable development, resilience and even refugee crisis response…?

UNDP team reported from Hatay

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