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The corona crisis affects everyone, but not everyone equally.

The situation in the programme’s partner countries Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey

Inevitably the 'Municipal Know-how for Host Communities in the Middle East' programme is being affected by the pandemic, as visits and missions have had to be cancelled for the time being. Yet despite the difficult circumstances there are positive examples – such as that of the municipality of Heimenkirch, which is seamlessly continuing dialogue with its Lebanese partners virtually rather than face-to-face, and is currently planning an online event to make up for the delegation visit.

Jordan
The response of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been exemplary. Fearing a rapid spread caused by areas of dense population, the country responded very swiftly. As early as 10 March, when there were 'only' a few dozen Covid-19 cases in Jordan, the borders were closed, and four days later so were mosques, schools and restaurants. Jordan imposed one of the strictest curfews anywhere in the world. Anyone venturing outside their home (without special permission) faces up to a year in prison, and the checks are strict. For three days people were not allowed to leave the house. They are now allowed to go shopping on foot between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and a delivery service has been set up using an app. Despite some bottlenecks, people can rely on basic services. For children and teenagers lessons are been continued on e-learning platforms, and are even being shown on national TV channels. Friday prayers are also being broadcast on TV, and this year the faithful will have to spend Ramadan (which begins on 24 April) at home.
Right now the pandemic is threatening not only human health, but also the freedom of the press. In Jordan, for instance, the printing of newspapers has been suspended. The reason given for this step was the risk of spreading the virus. Furthermore, the projected economic recession (the current forecast of 4% would be the highest since 1989) will hit the millions of people employed in the informal sector particularly hard. This is also the case worldwide.

Lebanon
When 2020 began, protests against government failures and rampant corruption were still ongoing in Lebanon, and a new government was formed. Furthermore, the Lebanese people have recently had only very limited access to cash. In March Lebanon had to announce that for the first time it was no longer able to service its debt. Even now, people are demonstrating on the streets of Lebanon with motorcades.
In the final weeks before the pandemic the tense economic situation had already caused food prices to double. Like the coronavirus, this is hitting the poorest of the poor hardest. Moreover, the public health system is ailing. Hospitals have so few resources that staff, some of whom have not been paid for months, have to make masks themselves. Only a few hundred ventilators are available.
At the end of February the government ordered the closure of educational institutions, followed on 6 March by restaurants and tourist attractions. On 15 March the national health emergency was declared. This entailed the temporary closure of the country's borders and the shutdown of large parts of the public sector and private enterprises. Only key institutions, hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets remain open. Then, on 26 March, a curfew was imposed between 7 in the evenings and 5 in the mornings.

Turkey
In terms of numbers, Turkey has been hit hardest by the coronavirus. The first confirmed case of infection was not reported in Turkey until 11 March, which was relatively late. It is assumed, however, that even before that there were a large number of unreported cases of illness.

Curfews (particularly at weekends) and travel restrictions have since been imposed in 31 cities and provinces. Since 21 March a curfew has been in place for the over 65s, the chronically sick and the under 20s. It is also obligatory to wear a protective mask in public (e.g. when shopping). International air traffic has been suspended and the economic situation is fraught. This is hitting the tourism sector, which is vital, particularly hard. The unemployment figures, which are already high, are expected to rise.

The situation at the Turkish-Greek border is tense. As a precautionary measure the temporary camps have been cleared and the refugees have been moved to other refugee camps. Reports have emerged from the coastal resort of Ayvacik that refugees are not being provided with food and drink, and do not have any accommodation. There is a risk that the refugee issue might be misused for political ends as a result of the corona crisis. This would be the case if they were refused entry on the grounds of a need to contain the pandemic.

In mid-April the government passed a law designed to convert the jail sentences of 90,000 prisoners in Turkey into house arrest. It is feared that there would otherwise be an outbreak of Covid-19 in prisons. There are no plans to release political prisoners, however – a point that has been criticised by human rights groups. Furthermore, over the last few weeks people who criticised the Turkish government's handling of the crisis on social networks have been arrested.

Going forward
The tight restrictions are having an effect. Most cities and towns in Jordan and Lebanon in particular seem almost deserted. As a result, there are now tentative signs of a turnaround in the rate of new infections. The table below shows the current figures on Covid-19 for our partner countries Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey as at 21 April (albeit with some uncertainty regarding the statistical precision):

 

Jordanien

Libanon

Türkei

Population

approx. 10 million

approx. 6 million

approx. 82 million


 Number of infected persons

435

682

98.674


Number of persons who have recovered

315

113

16.477

Fatalities

7

22

2.376

Tests performed

35.000

22.853

750.944


Sources:
Lebanon https://corona.ministryinfo.gov.lb/,
Jordan https://corona.moh.gov.jo/en/MediaCenter/1095,https://corona.help/country/jordan,
Turkey https://covid19.saglik.gov.tr/


Nonetheless, fears remain that the medical systems in our partner countries may be overwhelmed. Particularly in the refugee camps, where for instance in Zaatari (Jordan) almost 80,000 Syrian refugees are living under extremely cramped conditions, the spread of the virus could cause mass mortality. Refugees are among the most vulnerable members of a society. The first case of Covid-19 in Wavel refugee camp in eastern Lebanon was confirmed on 21 April. Now we can only hope that the virus is contained swiftly and successfully, and that no further infections occur in the refugee camps in the region.

One dark side of the crisis is the global increase in domestic violence resulting from the curfews. According to the United Nations, in some countries the number of cases has now already doubled year on year.
In these times international solidarity is all the more important. Municipalities in particular have a special role to play right now in coping with the everyday challenges of the crisis (e.g. disinfecting public buildings and streets, or setting up checkpoints to monitor body temperature), and in mitigating its huge impacts.

Recommended reading:
Woertz, Eckart: COVID-19 im Nahen Osten und in Nordafrika: Reaktionen, Gefährdung, Perspektiven. In: GIGA Focus Nahost. (German only). In: GIGA Focus Nahost.