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Lebanon hosts regional workshop on the digital and smart transformation in Arab cities

In an unprecedented initiative in Lebanon, the Municipality of Jounieh in collaboration with the Arab Forum for Smart Cities and under the patronage of the Lebanese Prime Minister- Designate Saad El Hariri, organized a workshop entitled "Digital and Smart Transformation in Arab Cities: Reality and Outlook".

The two-day workshop focused mainly on the status of municipalities before the process of transformation, the future of municipal services, ways to implement smart transformation strategies and the best means to benefit from big data in this field. In addition, it tackled the obstacles a municipality is prone to face and offered plans to overcome them and work towards digital transformation, including visions, strategies and policies in the transformation process.

The Head of Jounieh Municipality, Joan Hobeich, gave the opening speech in which he mentioned that we are living in a global village, asking, "Where do we stand as Arab countries and cities in the midst of the fast development happening at the level of the digital and smart field and aiming at keeping abreast with this era?"

He added that the digital and smart transformation requires a modern open policy, the creation of new university majors, scientific and technical staff qualifications, amendments in administrative departments, in addition to scientific cooperation with universities and specialized companies. In short, fiber optic has thus become "key to achieve a common ground between businesses and interests in this time, and we need to adopt it to move into the future."

Hobeich also pointed out that "The Municipality of Jounieh took this path since 1998 in cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and later on with the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities and the University at Albany, SUNY.

About a year ago, in the last municipal elections, our current council started conducting a scientific evaluation for a full rehabilitation of the networks, equipment and programs covering all the administrative, financial, educational, infrastructural, scientific, agricultural, and health sectors to bring this digital and smart development closer to serve the citizen and keep up with this civilization."

Eng. Jumana Atiyat, Executive manager of the Arab Forum for Smart Cities took the stage next and spoke in length about the Forum. She gave a brief overview of its establishment, mission, activities and goals. She explained the meaning of smart cities and mentioned some of the obstacles and challenges a city might confront and how to overcome them. Atiyat also tackled digital transformation needs and presented strategies and policies to adopt in the process of transformation.

Speaking to Smart Cities World Forums about the importance of holding such a workshop in Lebanon, Atiyat said, "Lebanon boasts a lot of competencies and valuable human resources. At the Forum, we are interested in spreading knowledge in the Arab world and we are ready to support any city wishing to move towards a smart transformation".

"The Head of Jounieh Municipality is the one who stressed the importance of organizing such a workshop, so, as an organization within the Arab Towns Organization, we are interested in supporting such initiatives. As an organization, we are looking to cope with the world's evolution, and we need to focus on the transformation towards smart cities, which includes digital transformation, modern technologies and municipal digital services required to achieve this transformation."

For her part, Lebanese Minister of State for Administrative Reforms, H.E. Dr. Inaya Ezzeddine, presented a worksheet on the governmental services' sector in Lebanon, pointing out that this meeting is an important opportunity to exchange views on the future sustainability and prosperity of our countries and cities in the region. She also added that the proposed topics for discussion are of a great importance and should be tackled in order to share ideas and experiences around to find the appropriate answers to important questions, mainly: which Lebanon and what cities we want?

"Studies estimate that by the end of 2025, more than three-quarters of the world's population will be living in cities, and Lebanon is one of the countries susceptible to this kind of change. In fact, Beirut's current population is about 1 916 000, equivalent to one third of Lebanon's population. The number in 1960 was around 400 000, which means a 500% increase in the population", said Ezzeddine.

She continues, "A long-term vision is required to approach this issue in two ways: The first is to alleviate the pressure and burden on cities by providing opportunities for people to live, learn, work and enjoy a decent life in rural areas. The other way – which is the focus point of this conference - is to improve living conditions in cities by making them smart places. Both ways need to be achieved in parallel and harmonically through the innovative use of emerging technologies to ensure long-term success."

According to Minister Ezzeddine, "Our cities need a solid and soft infrastructure, which requires an intelligent investment based on data, information and figures and one that results from a long-term planning and aims to achieve specific measurable outputs. At the forefront of these outputs are digital skills, knowledge economy, job creation, managing the increasing crises of solid waste, congestion, housing, environmental pollution and other challenges facing our society."

Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Ezzedine spoke to Smart Cities World Forums about the importance of this workshop, saying, "This event is very important, it came at the right time and the right place. The whole world is now preparing for a revolution of a different kind and Lebanon has to move all its departments and sectors towards a digitized age. We have a national strategy that involves every citizen, companies, all sectors and universities. Lebanon has to move towards digitization. We have directed all the plans and strategies towards this goal. We are trying to start working on them and we're waiting for the new government to form in order to get the approval and start the implementation."

Regarding sustainable development, there were two interventions during the workshop: one for the Secretary General of the Turkish organization UCLG-MEWA, Mehmet Duman, and another one from Saudi Arabia presented by the representative of the Arab Urban Development institute on the role of urban observatory in smart cities.

The municipality of Jounieh concluded the opening session by honoring all the participants in the workshop.

All participants reunited again on the second day to continue this interesting multiregional gathering. This time, Amman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Palestine shared their experience on how they decided to transform their cities into smart ones. Some unified their administrative database, others decided to monitor civil organization through an app allowing supervisors to make their tours online without the need to visit the field, others also created apps to implement their mobile violation system with the same vision to decrease road traffic, while some focused on the educational sector through curriculum reforms to insert AI, robotics, and IoT courses in schools.