Local governance quality and the environmental cost of forced migration

Cevat Giray Aksoy and Semih Tumen

Journal of Development Economics, Volume 149 (2021)



This paper examines whether high-quality local governance can alleviate the environmental impact of large-scale refugee migration to Turkey. In the absence of additional investments in infrastructure and other waste management facilities, a greater population density is likely to have a negative impact on environmental quality, with consequent effects on the health and wellbeing of host communities.

Using an instrumental variable approach, the authors estimate the causal impact of the influx of Syrian refugees on core environmental municipal services, specifically: (1) daily per capita waste water, net of recycling; (2) per capita distributed fresh water from natural resources; and (3) per capita solid waste, net of recycling. The authors also compare results for municipalities with high-quality local governance, versus those with low-quality local governance.

The analysis is based on data extracted from Turkish Court of Accounts (TCA) auditors’ reports from 2013 to 2016 for each province. The reports contain findings of independent audits of annual activities and financial records for each provincial government. Following the World Bank’s Local Governance Performance Index, the authors construct four qualitative indicators (corruption, transparency, governance effectiveness, accountability) and two quantitative indicators (the ratio of interest payments to total expenditures as a measure of financial prudence, and the ratio of labor cost to total expenditures) that capture various dimensions of local governance quality. The six local governance indicators are brought together to form an aggregate Local Governance Quality Index (LGQI).

Main results:

  • Well-governed and badly governed municipalities are not statistically different from each other in terms of their population and economic activities.
  • Higher refugee concentration is associated with worse environmental outcomes. On average, the Syrian refugee influx has increased per capita levels of solid waste, wastewater, and distributed clean water in Turkey.
  • Per capita expenditures on waste management and water supply services have not changed. Revenues allocated by the central government typically account for the majority of municipal revenues. These transfers are based on municipal population and land area, which are often estimated with a lag and so would not account for the sudden population growth due to refugee inflows. The findings imply a substantial increase in the production of waste, with potentially negative implications for the health of residents in the communities hosting refugees, and for refugees themselves.
  • The deterioration in environmental outcomes in response to refugee inflows is almost entirely driven by municipalities with low local governance quality, while there is no change in those variables in municipalities with high local governance quality. Additional investment in waste treatment plants in well-governed municipalities may explain these results.
  • The three most important qualitative sub-components are, in the order of importance: corruption, transparency, and accountability. Environmental outcomes suffered more in municipalities with higher corruption (for example where contracts, permits or licenses were granted without due process), lower transparency (for example where bidding procedures were rigged) and lower accountability (for example where municipal spending was not registered in conformity with the legal framework). In addition, the ratio of labor cost to total expenditure seems to play an important role.

The authors conclude that well-governed municipalities were better at tackling the challenges from rapidly increasing population density and investing in infrastructure to keep pace with population growth. In particular, Turkish municipalities with low corruption, high transparency and accountability are more successful in addressing the environmental and municipal service challenges posed by increased refugee concentrations. The results imply that the pressures generated by increased refugee concentration can be mitigated by local governments through improved local governance practices.