CONFERENCE ON THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE LIBERATED TERRITORIES & THE ADJACENT AREAS, & ON THE OVERALL DEVELOPMENT OF LEBANON

Beirut, 26-27 July 2000

ECONOMIC PROSPECTS OF SOUTHERN LEBANON: PRESENTATION OF THE NATIONAL INTEGRATED FIVE-YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN

Dr. Nasser Saidi

Minister of Economy and Trade

Minister of Industry

Excellencies, Ambassadors and Representatives
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

You have been invited to this meeting to address an issue that is dear to the heart of all the Lebanese and friends of Lebanon: The reconstruction of Southern Lebanon and the overall development of Lebanon. As we celebrate the end of 22 years of continued Israeli occupation, aggression and oppression, we take a long look around, and ask ourselves: how do we pick up the pieces? How do we rebuild what was destroyed? Can we rebuild what was destroyed?

This liberation brings a series of new challenges that face the Lebanese Government and society. The most important and pressing challenge is developing the liberated regions and linking them with the Lebanese economy at the economic, social and infrastructure levels. However, in order to better understand the importance and difficulty of this challenge, we have to look back. We have to realize how severe the scars left by the Israeli occupation are. We have to recognize the losses induced by the Israeli occupation.

1- Current Situation in Southern Lebanon

Losses in Human resources
On the human front, and adding to the losses in human lives, are social problems consequent to the Israeli occupation, to the shelling and the ruthless and barbarous torture in detainment camps. Around 270,000 people were heavily affected by the Israeli occupation. Indeed, the whole population has faced nearly a generation of stress and traumas. The loss in human resources due to the occupation is numbered in thousands of deaths and handicapped, 175,000 of displaced and more than 1,500 of former detainees.Moreover, during the past three decades of occupation, Southern Lebanon has witnessed substantial displacement of population and out-migration. The previously occupied zone has lost more than two thirds of its inhabitants.

Losses in Natural Resources
Second, Southern Lebanon has lost its natural resources. Several minefields, uncultivated arable areas, generally corresponding to possibly mined zones, abandoned agricultural lands, deforested areas, vast burned fields and deserted terrain and buildings, all are traces of occupation.
The occupation is also responsible for the lack of water resource management as well as for the halted progress on the hydraulic resources projects at the Litani River. Today, liberated and adjacent territories account for the most critical cases of villages deprived of water compared to the rest of the country, not only for irrigation purposes, but also for potable water needs.

Damaged infrastructure and equipment
Southern Lebanon has also suffered massive destruction in public infrastructure, major losses in services, as well as large-scale destruction of private property. In fact, the loss in physical infrastructure due to the shelling is numbered in more than 12,000 damaged houses. As far as sanitation is concerned, the situation can be qualified as critical. The region suffers from an insufficient number of hospitals, schools are under equipped and need serious rehabilitation.

Poverty and socio-economic problems
The Israeli occupation affected also the soci-economic situation of the region. Poverty and social problems are prevailing. The inhabitants of Southern Lebanon live in precarious economic conditions and a quarter of the households has a monthly income less than $300 for an average family of 4.8 persons. Adding to the level of poverty in the region are social problems consequent to the Israeli occupation, especially for vulnerable groups including the displaced, orphans, disabled, handicapped, prisoners and ex-prisoners... Indeed, the whole population has faced nearly a generation of stress and traumas, a fact that necessitates the urgent development of rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

2- Rebuilding Southern Lebanon is a National and Regional Priority

Can we rebuild what was destroyed? Perhaps this was the most crucial question many of us have raised after liberation... We strongly believe we can. We all together, Government of Lebanon and International Community can.

We cannot bring back the dead. We cannot erase from our memories 22 years of continuous shelling, torture, aggression and brutality. But we can give the survivors their homes and lives back, we can get the displaced back to their villages, we can rebuild their villages, we can give them schools, hospitals and jobs, we can secure shelter, education and social care for the orphans, we can give the disabled, handicapped, prisoners and ex-prisoners the opportunity and the right to reintegrate into society...

Ladies and gentlemen,

Southern Lebanon is of geo-political importance in the region and warrants particular support. The development of Southern Lebanon is crucial for Lebanon’s internal cohesion. The liberated and adjacent territories have been deserted by most of its residents because of the daily aggression and persecution during the occupation. Those residents that stayed could only rarely and arbitrarily communicate with their countrymen. The occupation has further isolated Southern Lebanon by preventing Lebanese institutions from maintaining and developing the basic infrastructure of the region. Developing the liberated regions represents a necessary condition for ensuring a successful return of the displaced population and to reintegrate that region back into the rest of the country at the economic, social and infrastructure level.

By developing Southern Lebanon we would achieve a major step in the direction of a just, durable and comprehensive peace in the region. There may be little consensus about the means of achieving peace in the Middle East, but there is no doubt that the post-conflict development of this region is a necessary step to avoid the renewal of the conflict on this front. Any delay in meeting the development needs of the Southern areas would threaten our hard-won stability in Lebanon, and would have serious implications on the social, economic and political stability of the region.

Developing Southern Lebanon is also the only true confidence building measure that integrates that region back into the rest of the world. It is making clear to the Lebanese as well as the international community that Southern Lebanon is not a “troublespot”, but a full socio-economic contributor with a wealth of human and natural resources and an integral inseparable part of a whole, a law-abiding peace-loving country.

3- The Economic Potential of Southern Lebanon

However, the present situation of Southern Lebanon should not undermine the fact that this region possesses important development potentials.

  • Southern Lebanon can profit from its young and dynamic population, whether they be residents in Lebanon or living elsewhere.
  • Southern Lebanon has an important agricultural potential, not only due to its fertile lands and the sunny, favorable climate, but also due to the availability of water resources.
  • Southern Lebanon has the capacity of becoming a regional food and agricultural production center.
  • Southern Lebanon can also become a major cultural, ecological, and leisure tourism area due to its diversified archeological and religious sites, combined with the weather conditions and untapped seashore areas.

What matters today is to harness this potential and to build an environment favorable for the return of entrepreneurs and our Lebanese financial capital that is abroad in order to mobilize important investments towards the numerous promising opportunities in the region.

What matters also today is to create jobs, productive jobs, in order to ensure a successful return of the displaced population to the region.

What matters also today is to put into operation a transition period from an era of emergency assistance to another era of development.

This transition and future prosperity can only be achieved through the implementation of an integrated and comprehensive socio-economic development program for our devastated regions.

Therefore, and in order to address the challenges of liberation, bring back normal life to the region and ensure its sustainable development, the Lebanese Government worked on three fronts:

  1. Embarking on an emergency program for ensuring basic needs and services for the region of Southern Lebanon.
  2. However, since the emergency program is not sufficient to achieve the long-term prosperity of the region, the Government of Lebanon has also prepared an integrated five-year socio-economic development plan for the liberated and adjacent territories.
  3. Moreover, the Government is aware that job creation and prosperity cannot be achieved without the private sector initiative. Therefore, and in order to boost private sector investment in Southern Lebanon, the Government has prepared a legal framework that aims and providing investment incentives, such as tax incentives, job creation incentives, training incentives… It also proposed a law to simplify procedures pertaining to investment in those regions.

    4- The integrated five-year development plan

    The Integrated Five year development has been designed to reach three main objectives:

    • An objective of prosperity: to give Southern Lebanon the capacity to assume a sectorial economic plan and progress in a social plan addressing the situation of the most deprived.
    • An objective of security: to assure and reinforce civil peace, guarantee the security of people and possessions, specifically in relation to the danger of mine fields, and to ensure the return of the state to service the inhabitants of the region.
    • An objective of national integration to reinforce the national integration of Southern Lebanon, and ensure an adequate level of services equivalent to that of other regions.

    In order to realize these goals, the government has defined the social, economic and infrastructure needs of the region, designed projects to address those needs and prepared the integrated plan. The total cost of the plan is approximately $1,340 M. The plan’s strategy relies on four main axes.

    First, The implementation of infrastructure, equipment, and services projects.

    The rehabilitation of the road network, the up-grading of electricity, telecommunications, and the execution of irrigation, water supply, solid waste disposal and waste water projects as well as the provision of health services, vocational and technical education will support the return of the residents of the liberated areas to their towns and villages. The cost of infrastructure, equipment and basic services projects amount to approximately $990M.

    Second, the adoption of social, economic and human development programs that would

    • Provide adequate and sustainable income for inhabitants of the liberated areas and subsequently improve living conditions, through industrial enterprise development and agriculture development, support of small and medium enterprises, promotion of tourism through rehabilitation and preservation of historic and archaeological sites, strengthening civil society organizations as well as providing support to institutional strengthening of local government capacity
    • Allow for the rehabilitation of human resources and social integration, through professional training and economic integration of the youth, and economic integration of marginalized groups such as the displaced, and freed prisoners

    An important irrigation project (irrigation of the South 800) was added to the socio-economic development component as well as a large program of dams and hill lakes to support the economic development of the liberated areas.
    Socio-economic development projects are estimated at $149M.

    Third, assistance and compensation allowances to families and dependants of deceased, compensation allowances to wounded and to prisoners as well as for damaged houses, in addition to grants to Tobacco cultivation. Assistance and compensation allowances amount to $190 M

    Fourth, the clearance of mines that amounts to $8.5 M, which constitute a security threat impeding the return of people to their villages and homes and which hinders investment in fertile agricultural lands

    The above-mentioned projects are also part of the National Integrated Five Year Development Plan of the Government for Lebanon. As such, they fall into the government priorities aiming at fulfilling a national comprehensive developmental goal. Therefore, they are in line with the global objectives of the five year plan, i.e. to give first consideration to the broad social needs, to support productive sectors such as agriculture, industry, tourism, and other services, and to cater for a balanced regional development.

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    You have in your hands a comprehensive plan that addresses the most crucial socio-economic needs of Southern Lebanon that represent today an exigency for a successful return of the displaced to the region. The Government of Lebanon is determined and committed to the development of its southern territories. However, it is also within your reach to help us achieve that goal towards sustained economic as well as political stability in the region.

    5- Conditions for success

    The stakes in the development of Southern Lebanon are of significant importance in many regards, not only to Lebanon but to the whole region as well. However, The Integrated Five Year Development Plan for Southern Lebanon cannot succeed without the support of the International community and the backing of the largest number of partners, through the provision of technical assistance, financial resources, aid, grant and other contributions.

    The government of Lebanon hopes and believes that many partners will positively respond to the call to participate in rebuilding and developing the South and the Western Bekaa to the benefit of Lebanon and the Middle East.

    Wasn’t Europe rebuilt with the help of the International Community? What Lebanon needs today is a mini “Marshall Plan” that requires your support and backing.



    Conclusion

    The latest developments on the geopolitical scene have opened new prospects and opportunities for Lebanon. This great challenge of rebuilding Southern Lebanon and achieving the socio-economic development all-over the country, necessitates strong and committed support from the international community. Moreover, the constraints to mobilize local resources to finance the required investments, confirm the necessity of substantial backing from the international community and international and regional financial institutions.

    Yet the current situation in the Lebanon requires a mobilization of all efforts to help the Lebanese Government achieve:

    1. The creation of an example of peace and stability in the region by improving the overall socio-economic conditions of the Lebanese population, and especially in Southern Lebanon.
    2. Undo all the damages of past aggression and political instability through the design of a tailored “mini-Marshall plan” adapted to Lebanon’s needs in a way to ensure extensive financial and technical assistance to implement our Five-year development Plan aiming at consolidating civil peace and giving the area the capacity to assume a sectorial economic plan and addressing the situation of the most deprived for Southern Lebanon as well as the National Five-year Development Plan that aims at improving the economy’s competitiveness and help it recover from the burden of political and economic instability.

    Any failure to provide for these national projects would carry the risk of jeopardizing economic stability in this area of the Middle East. We believe that all together, we possess the potential to achieve these objectives. Therefore, we call for the support, mobilization and assistance of the Arab as well as International Community.

    Thank you.