Lebanon – Urban Issues

(2014)2%GDP Growth
(2014)65/187Inequality adjusted Human Development Index rank
(2014)4.55 millionPopulation
(2014)88%Urban Population
(2015)17.04 %Youth population (15-24)
(2015)0.86%Population Growth Rate
(2010- 2015)3.18%Urbanization Growth Rate
(2005)53.10%Proportion of urban population living in slum are


Key Urban Issues
Lebanon has for decades witnessed a rapid and uncontrolled urban growth and sprawl. With limited planning regulations in place or enforced, the urban areas are covering increasingly large areas, at the same time urban disparities has grown. New constructions are massively increasing especially at the coastal zone, where the majority of the Lebanese population resides, contributing to the uncontrolled urban expansion (CDR, 2005).

While the cities, and especially the capital Beirut, have flourishing high end districts, the urban divide and inequality have only grown deeper. Only in the metropolitan area of Beirut, there were 24 slums/impoverished poor neighborhoods before the current crisis hosting 20% of the population (Fawaz and Peillen, 2003). UN-Habitat estimated that the ‘slum’ to urban population in Lebanon was around 50% in the year 2001 (UN-Habitat, 2010).

A notable change in poverty indicators was noted between 1995 and 2004 with a decrease in both the households living in extreme poverty (from 7% till 5%) and those living in relative poverty (from 28% till 18%) (MOSA and UNDP, 2004). However, with the Syrian crisis, the poverty levels has again risen. The poorest areas have also experienced a significant increase of population, with some neighborhoods experiencing up to a doubling of the population with Syrian refugees. The Palestine Refugee camps and gatherings have also experienced a significant population increase because of the influx of Syrian refugees and these areas provide only scarce affordable housing options.

The planning systems are to a little extent equipped to consider measures to mitigate the urban divide. The lack of local planning and cross sectorial master plans hinders any absorption capacity of the increasing urban population. The service systems have over the years of the civil war become increasingly deficient and have not been systematically addressed since. This is further exacerbated by a fragmented service provision and planning system. As a result, while two thirds of the population is connected to sewerage networks only 8% is treated and 50% of the water is lost in the networks. Additionally, the national average power supply lies at only 18.3 hours per day. The poor services, lack of planning and heavy reliance on private transportation – Lebanon has the second highest person-to-car rate in the world – has a dramatically negative impact on the environment and health of urban citizens. This has been further exacerbated by the Syrian crisis and the massive rise of population.


Lebanon is one of the most urbanized countries in both the world and the Arab region, with 87% of its population of 4 million living in urban areas and the majority – estimated at 64% – residing in the metropolitan areas of Beirut and Tripoli. Urban expansion in Lebanon is concentrated in and around the main coastal cities (Beirut, Tripoli9, Saida and Tyre), between secondary cities and in the form of informal areas on the belts of cities10. The Palestine refugee population of about 270,000 lives in the 12 official camps and 43 adjacent areas and gatherings, the far majority found in the four main coastal cities. With the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011 Lebanon witnessed a massive influx of displaced people from Syria, with more than 1,075,000 Syrian refugees registered as per October 2015, in addition to 43,500 Palestine refugees from Syria and smaller numbers of Lebanese returnees and Iraqi refugees11. The displaced from Syria to a large extent follow the urbanization pattern of the host population as there are no formal camps, thus the refugees have found shelter mainly through the formal and informal market channels. Three of four key economic sectors – construction/real estate, service industry and tourism (exception is the agricultural sector) – are also concentrated in the main cities along the coast, as well as the larger informal market and services. It is therefore expected that also more of the displaced from Syria will move towards the larger cities in the coming years to seek work opportunities.

Managing Urbanization

Lebanon is divided into eight governorates that include 25 districts (Cada) which are: Beirut, Mount Lebanon, North, Akkar, Beqaa, Baalbeck/Hermel, South, and Nabatiyeh. Most of the localities in Lebanon such as cities, towns and villages of the country are governed by municipalities (1080 municipalities exist in Lebanon). Municipalities are local administrations which according to the law enjoy a “legal personality as well as financial and administrative independence”. The majority of the municipalities have voluntarily come together to form Unions of Municipalities (53 Unions of Municipalities covers more than 800 municipalities), thus enhancing the capacities of municipalities and allowing them to operate on a regional scale.
Planning in Lebanon is executed in a highly centralized manner and in a “pastiche” manner due to the various planning actors, many ad-hoc developments, and primacy of the real-estate sector and the influence of politics. While there are tools to regulate planning in Lebanon such as the National Physical Master Plan for the Lebanese Territories from 2005, master plans and building codes planning does not respond to the territorial specificities, urban disparities or to the latest impact of the Syrian crisis. Lebanon has a number of national actors concerned with urban planning, yet state policies in this sector remain minimal. Those key concerned actors include the local authorities (municipalities and unions of municipalities), the Directorate General of Urbanism (DGU), the Higher Council for Urban Planning (HCUP), the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), and other sector ministries.

Environmental Challenges


The population growth and the increase in consumption rates are causing a rapid increase in the demand for water for domestic use in urban cities, which is estimated to reach an average of 420 mm3 in 203012. Mismanagement of water resources, with very low water storage capacity, a high amount of water lost to the sea, low operational maintenance of the water distribution network and absence of an official management scheme for the water sector, lead to regional and seasonal discrepancy in the supply of water13. As a means to secure water for daily consumption 50% of the population purchase bottles or gallons, 25% of the population use water from vending trucks, 10% use water from spring or tap stand, and 10% use private networks14.

Aside from its high water consumption, the combined effect of the rapid demographic growth together with an increase in consumerism is also significantly increasing the volume of solid waste generated in urban areas in Lebanon. Therefore, of the average 1.57 million tons of waste generated in Lebanon per year around 65 percent are generated in urban areas. Since July 2015, Lebanon has been facing a severe solid waste crisis that led to the creation of 1700 dumping sites, nearly in each locality, and to the compilation of garbage in the streets of the city of Beirut.

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