Published on Arab Voices

How do we build sustainable Palestinian cities of the future?

A city view of Tulkarm, the West Bank, Palestinien Territories A city view of Tulkarm, the West Bank, Palestinien Territories

There is a worldwide tendency to move towards sustainable urban development based on revitalizing and transforming urban areas and cities. The aim is to improve livability and reduce environmental impacts while maximizing economic and social co-benefits. This trend is extremely relevant to the Palestinian territories, which are highly urbanized and becoming ever more densely built-up due to politically determined boundaries that do not account for natural population growth.  

The burden of overcrowding. The share of Palestinians living in urban areas has reached 77 percent (3.8 million people) with more than 60 percent of the urban population living in large cities, an increase of more than 50 percent over the last fifty years. Population density in the territories, at an estimated 798 people per km2, is nearly double that of India (464) and Israel (426) and is well above the world average of 60. This demographic reality within constrained administrative boundaries makes the planning, financing and management of Palestinian cities and towns a national policy priority.    

Palestinian cities face the risk of natural and man-made disasters. Natural hazards include earthquakes and heavy rainfall, which can lead to landslides and liquefaction (where waterlogged soil beneath buildings gives way), as well as both floods and droughts. Man-made hazards are predominantly linked to long-standing political conflict and violence. The effects of climate change further exacerbate these hazards. Reduced rainfall and rising temperatures hasten desertification and an increasing incidence of heatwaves and wildfires. Water shortages and drought, as well as coastal flooding, saltwater intrusion and coastal erosion are becoming serious issues. Climate change also increases the incidence of diseases transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, ticks, and other vectors, which can lead to epidemics and pandemics.  

Weak governance systems exacerbate the impact of disasters. Rapid and unplanned urbanization, and inadequate and poorly regulated infrastructure combine with environmental degradation to contribute to increased vulnerabilities of the population. The long-delayed establishment of a comprehensive legal, policy, and institutional framework for disaster risk management (DRM) in the Palestinian territories is a fundamental gap. Significant gains have been achieved in the past three years, particularly in creating institutions with mandates to address these issues. However, without an enabling policy, many policies are poorly enforced, and institutions face perennial problems with coordination, communication, and integration of initiatives and resources.  

Dense urbanization is made worse by the difficulties in providing reliable and quality utility services, particularly water, energy and solid waste collection and disposal. Growing population and urbanization leads to more solid waste, placing significant pressure on collection service providers and concerned government agencies. Many of the landfills are reaching their design capacity earlier than planned, creating negative environmental and public health consequences. The problem is further amplified by the restrictions imposed on Area C causing severe challenges in identifying suitable land to construct new landfills as well as the lack of resources for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to make capital infrastructure investments in waste treatment facilities. Achieving financial sustainability, cost-recovery, and enhanced service efficiency in solid waste management (SWM) are challenges everywhere around the globe. 

How can the World Bank support the way forward? The PA fully recognizes the need to address the bottlenecks. This can be observed in the multiple targets the PA set itself in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, its national SWM strategy, and numerous decrees and decisions adopted during the last years. The World Bank recently approved a new Resilient Municipal Services Project that aims to deepen the national level reforms necessary to create an enabling environment for improving financial sustainability and accountability of local government units that are in charge of urban areas. Among the primary objectives are the establishment of an intergovernmental fiscal transfer system to ensure some discipline in financial flows between the Central Government (MoF) and Local Government Units (municipalities and village councils), establishing and strengthening local revenue generation by cities and municipalities, developing a clear and timebound action plan to address the persistent issue of net lending1, and exploring Public Private Partnership (PPP) opportunities and other strategies that could contribute to financially sustainable local governance in West Bank and Gaza. 

When a disaster strikes. The World Bank is also helping the PA to move from a traditional response and recovery focus to a more sustainable disaster risk management that covers the entire DRM cycle (i.e. preparedness, prevention, mitigation, reduction, response, recovery, reconstruction, and disaster risk financing and transfer). As such, in the coming years the World Bank will assist the PA to: (i) review existing design review/approval and construction permit systems, relevant construction codes and standards, construction supervision arrangements, construction quality control and retrofitting standards, and provide a range of recommendations to improve existing design/construction/retrofitting standards and make them climate and DRM resilient, (ii) consolidate existing spatial risk assessment and planning tools and develop scenarios for green and climate/DRM resilient urban development through policy and investments choices (compact growth, green building, nature-based solutions, efficient public transport, energy efficient street lighting and waste management systems). 

The World Bank has been supporting the PA in the solid waste sector with investment projects and advisory services since the early 2000s. Through the Global Partnership for Results Based Approaches (GPRBA) Multi-Donor Trust Fund, housed at the World Bank, the Bank is now providing additional technical assistance (TA) to the PA to develop an integrated roadmap that will enable Palestine to implement its national SWM targets and NDC plans and improve the overall design and management of future SWM operations. In particular, the roadmap will support: (i) creating policies to minimize waste disposal at landfills through diversion, recovery and achieving greater efficiencies in optimized collection and transfer for final disposal; (ii) maximizing climate change considerations and NDCs through improved Landfill Management; and (iii) achieving financial sustainability in the sector.

1 Net lending refers to the system by which Israel deducts payment from tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA for unpaid electricity, water and sewage services provided to Palestinian consumers. 


Haji Huseynov

Senior Infrastructure Specialist for West Bank and Gaza

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