Building Communities, Cities and Governance in the Palestinian Territories
April 13, 2017
• Over the last 12 years in Gaza City, the municipality has kept urban services going despite the serious challenges it has faced.
• Palestinian poverty rate remains at about one quarter of its population, using national indicators.
• The NGOs fill the gaps where local governments cannot or do not have the capacity to operate.
Over the last 12 years in Gaza City, the municipality has kept urban services going despite the serious challenges it has faced. Improvements in revenue collection and own-source revenue, as well as participatory processes, finances, accounting, and budgeting were all critical to making this possible.
“Across the Palestinian territories, local governments have worked to improve the services and infrastructure needed today and to build the capacity critical for the future,” said Anna Wellenstein, Director in the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice. “And, as a result, municipalities are becoming more capable, transparent and, most importantly, more accountable to their citizens. This is significant progress in any context, but in the fragile context of the Palestinian territories, it is truly impressive.”
Palestinian poverty rate remains at about one quarter of its population, using national indicators. Unemployment has gone up from 25% in 2015 to 27% in 2016, though it varies—from a high 42% in Gaza to 18% in the West Bank. Overall, the coverage and quality of basic local services have eroded with economic contraction, shrinking local budgets, and territorial fragmentation as a result of Israeli security measures. In spite of this, there are improvements: for example, around 40% of the citizens in municipalities say the collection of solid waste (garbage) has improved.
First, local officials are focused on improving municipal governance. They are working on how well the municipalities identify, plan, and execute investment and manage their finances overall. The municipality now has systems in place, such as participatory planning and e-governance. About 94% of municipalities in the West Bank and Gaza have put at least two public disclosure mechanisms into practice, such as launching a municipal website or Facebook page. This is up from 8% in 2013.
Second, they spoke of the challenge and importance of staying connected to the broader world. They proudly described their sister city programs as sources of technical knowledge, funding, solidarity and aspiration.
Finally, they are thinking and planning for the long term, with business corridors to support economic activity and by updating their Master Plan, and a plan for the redevelopment of Gaza’s city center amid very high, human density, with 27,800 persons living per km2 in built-up areas.
The World Bank Group is helping to improve conditions at the local level. Through the Municipal Development Program, funds are pooled from the Bank, other international donors, and the Palestinian Authority. These are distributed under a predictable, transparent, and performance-based system to municipalities for capital investment and capacity building. Local governments thus know when and how they can access funds this year and for years to come. And they have incentives to improve their performance.
The Local Governance and Service Improvement Program also supports a financing mechanism for Villages and Joint Service Councils, the coalitions of local governments that come together to provide shared local services and infrastructure. Once they move on from the functions of basic governance, they could qualify in the future for more support under the Municipal Development Program.
The new Integrated Cities and Urban Development Project supports cities to plan sustainable physical, social, and economic growth. Using sophisticated scenario analysis, the project will help local governments and balance the demands of infrastructure, livability, and land needed for development in a constrained and fragile setting.
Beyond the public sector, the Bank and other development partners have provided long-term support to non-government organizations for critical social services in marginalized areas, such as kindergartens and community centers. These Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) fill the gaps where local governments cannot or do not have the capacity to operate. The next phase of this should see a merging of efforts as NGOs organize communities and local governments grow in capacity to provide a range of basic and social services.
“What lies ahead is unclear,” stressed Wellenstein, “but the strengthening of services and local governance helps offer Palestinians more livable villages and cities, more economic opportunities, and the building of fair and transparent institutions critical to their future.”