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Scenario thinking in Lebanon

Since the outbreak of war in Syria, Lebanon, a country of just under eight million inhabitants, has taken in more than 1,5 million Syrian refugees. The refugees have no status and are scattered across the country. Sometimes in a group of tents on a piece of land that has been made available, sometimes in the city. With the arrival of the Syrians, the pressure on municipal facilities such as waste processing and water has increased sharply. In this context, municipalities try to organize the best for their citizens, but at the same time live in uncertainty about what the future will bring.

Scenario thinking in the context of migration and development

Commissioned by VNG International, our jester Linda Kaput, together with Jaap Gräber, traveled to Lebanon to introduce scenario thinking. This has already been done successfully in Jordan, another country that is home to many Syrian refugees. Scenario planning works differently in a migration and development context than in the Netherlands, for example. While in the Netherlands it is often a way of weighing risks, this is not the case in these countries. So many basic conditions, care, education, infrastructure, still have to be met that most strategic options are relevant and robust, regardless of the scenario. The value of scenario thinking lies in two elements in a migration context.

Taking into account unwanted futures

First, it helps (local) governments to take into account unwanted futures. Policy is often made on futures that, while desirable, are not always the most likely. The refugees may be returning home quickly, but they may also stay for years. Uncertainty is not so much the problem, more that often only the most favorable option is considered. This is particularly the case in Lebanon, because the subject is much more sensitive and discussed in a more concealed way than in Jordan or Uganda, for example. Participants in a workshop for a municipality were themselves surprised when they realized that the departure of the refugees would mean more space and resources, but also that there would be no clothing makers.

In conversation about apolitical future descriptions

Secondly, future scenarios offer a neutral instrument to bring stakeholders into dialogue with each other. In a country like Lebanon, which is strongly divided along the dividing lines of religion and tribal groups, this is particularly useful. Because the scenarios describe the external context, they are more or less apolitical. In addition, they invite free thinking, which is not always easy in these countries. This makes the scenarios a good starting point for an open discussion. The method offers people the space to disagree with each other, there is no right or wrong. It is precisely this making explicit of the different assumptions people have about the future that brings them closer together. In this way, for example, a municipality, international NGO and women's movement learn to understand each other better. This then helps in jointly making decisions about desired interventions and implementing them.

The introduction of scenario thinking in Lebanon was very successful. The local VNGI team can add a new tool to its toolbox and the two municipalities involved immediately saw opportunities to apply the method to the themes of waste separation and waste water transport.

For more information, please contact Linda Kaput.

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