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Addressing Urban Resilience in Amman

16 August, 2017
BY Victoria Silva Sánchez

Amman is the heart of Jordan, and is a city of almost 4 million inhabitants that is facing growing challenges posed by its increasing population, the influx of Syrian refugees, the economic crisis and the need to integrate all sectors of society, including those considered the most vulnerable.

All of these challenges have pushed Amman to develop a Resilience Strategy. Under the umbrella of the 100 Resilient Cities project, the Great Amman Municipality (GAM) launched on May 17 the “Resilient Amman – Welcoming, Young, Diverse” strategy, which “provides integrated solutions to build a smart, innovative and environmentally proactive city with engaged and empowered citizens and residents,” according to the strategy.

The strategy is based on five pillars, which address broad domains, mainly comprised of mobility, connectivity, environmental consciousness, innovation, entrepreneurship, equality and empowerment of citizens, with young people at the top. But to transform a strategy into concrete realities is not an easy task, especially given all of the challenges that Amman faces.

However, that has been no obstacle for others that wanted to help their neighbors to become resilient. This is the case of the Harra Initiative. Since 2005, they have been diligently working in the neighborhoods of East Amman, as Al-Ashrafiyah, Yarmouk, Jabal Jouffah, Al-Nasr and Wihdat refugee camp are some of the most deprived areas in the Jordanian capital. The initiative is also working in other governorates, including Zarqa or Irbid. “They do not know how to address their needs or how to address [such needs] to the authorities,” explained Mohammed Abu Amerah, the founder of Harra. “They are living with negative feelings regarding everything. We are trying to bring together positive feelings and attitudes instead.”

The basic idea behind Harra is the rebuilding of the community. In Arabic, harra means “the core unit of the community”, which can be understood as the neighborhood. “The aim was to help the community to develop its own voice, because when the community works together, they can find their point of strength and make a positive change,” remarked Amerah.

The drive in harra is the community itself and the need to show members of the community how to use their power to change their lives, the lives of their children and their neighborhood. This starts with the physical rebuilding of the neighborhood, which lasts between 12 and 14 months. But the purpose of this phase is also to build social nets in the Jordanian community. “We reintroduce them to each other, they become neighbors again,” recalled Amerah, adding that “we are creating a very simple role model based on caring about the people around us: our neighbors”.

This rebuilding of social links generates awareness about their common problems and shared challenges so that they can develop solutions to solve them. “When the community knows what they want for their area, that brings new ideas and solutions and contributes to the resilience of the area and the city as a whole,” said Amerah.

The implementation of this big strategy for making Amman resilient has to count on the organizations that are already working on the ground. “I used to work as the Major Advisor for Sustainability and Development in 2006. Then we launched the ‘Sahen Amman’ initiative, aimed at recovering the beauty of the city. But the implementers just focused on the buildings and did not work with the communities,” Amerah told BECAUSE.

“We have only focused on the communities for the past ten years,” stated the founder of Harra. “But we are trying to establish partnerships with other stakeholders, including the municipality and the private sector.”

The harra starts with the physical rehabilitation of the place, including the renovation of walls and streets, adding address numbers to houses or collecting garbage, among others. “This rehabilitation process is not only physical, but also social, economic and environmental. This ultimately leads us to improve living conditions in the neighborhood,” explained Amerah.

Other impacts of the rehabilitation are the creation of neighborhood associations, the establishment of recycling and energy saving projects or creating ways of generating income. “Our interventions in harra are designed to foster a sense of accountability and collective ownership,” stated Amerah.

The main aim that is pursued with this initiative is to recreate the living conditions in these areas. For example, in the first harra that was worked in, the security has improved. “The problems have vanished because we fixed the roots of the problems that were leading to violence between neighbors.”

According to Amerah, this is possible because of the accurate data that the Harra Initiative has collected prior to the intervention, through the mapping of the problems that exist between the neighbors. That allows you to “implement your solution based on real and accurate data,” Amerah pointed out.

The case of the Harra Initiative shows that the building of resilience starts with the rebuilding of the social links between citizens. This is the first step toward turning the whole city into a resilient being.

Photo credit: Harra Intitiative 

Tags Harra Initiative Amman Jordan Development community