Southern Lebanon at a Glance: Present Situation, Strengths, and Potential for Development

Southern Lebanon has been heavily affected by 22 years of continued Israeli occupation and aggression, which has left massive destruction in infrastructure, large scale substantial displacement of population and out-migration and losses in human lives and large scale destruction of private property. On the other hand, the area possesses important development potential. What matters today is to harness this potential and to put into operation a transition period from an era of emergency assistance to another era of development.

The present situation

The occupation of the South of Lebanon and the Western Bekaa by the Israeli army and its proxy militia has left severe and obvious scars on the previously occupied zone and its bordering areas, which severely affected land, resources, the physical infrastructure, the population, the social fabric, human resources and their capabilities...

The people

The five cazas most affected by Israeli occupation are estimated to have about 270,000 inhabitants, of whom 70,000 (22%) are in the former occupied zone, whereas 68% reside in the non-occupied area. The region has endured a demographic drain in successive waves of both internal migration and out-migration, essentially feeding the suburbs of big cities, especially Beirut. The skilled and educated population was displaced and a large number have migrated. In fact, the proportion of resident population to registered population within the previously occupied zone is 22%, whereas this ratio is 69% in the non-occupied zone. The previously occupied zone has lost more than two thirds of its inhabitants compared to a situation where there had been no occupation.

Today, the inhabitants of southern Lebanon live in precarious economic conditions: having lost income from activities related to the occupation. The population receives grants and aid from the Government of Lebanon on a limited scale. Activities include small-scale non-irrigated agricultural production, light scale small industry, and services. 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. The loss in human resources due to the occupation is numbered in thousands of deaths and handicapped, and tens of thousands of displaced. Furthermore, patients with psychological trauma represent lost resources, not counting the cost of treatment and rehabilitation.

Natural Resources

The territory
The territory carries the traces of the Israeli occupation: several minefields, uncultivated arable areas generally corresponding to possibly mined zones, abandoned agricultural lands, deforested areas, vast burned fields and deserted terrain and buildings.

Water resources
South Lebanon possesses important water resources. The persistence of the Israeli occupation and the consequent inability to execute the Litani river project has halted the progress on the hydraulic resources projects which began in the 1960’s. Furthermore, the occupation is largely responsible for the lack of water resource management by competent technical and administrative services. Today, the South accounts for the most critical cases of villages deprived of water compared to the rest of the country, not only for irrigation purposes (90% of the cultivation is not irrigated), but also for potable water needs which were partially satisfied by water from Israel.

Economic activity

The economy of the region is characterized by the dominance of agricultural activities, as well as light industry such as metal and foodstuffs, textile and shoe industries, and small craft activities, in addition to small activities in the services sector.

Agriculture. Southern Lebanon is primarily an agricultural region. Around 28% of the surface of the region is occupied by agriculture. Owner-operated farms are predominant, constituting more than 76% of all agricultural exploitations. Tobacco cultivation, which is largely subsidized by the State and employing around 8,000 persons, plays a crucial role in the economy of the region.

Industry. It is estimated that 2,353 industrial establishments are located in southern Lebanon, including Nabatieh, representing 10.68% of total establishments in Lebanon, and employing around 8.36% of total workforce in the industrial sector. Industrial enterprises in the region are strongly dependent on the availability of raw materials, which are mostly imported. Industrial establishments are also characterized by a relatively low technological level and a large low-qualified workforce. The industrial sector in southern Lebanon needs support and upgrading to apply to international norms and manufacturing standards, enabling to expand export potential.

Tourism has practically ceased in the entire region for the past 30 years. A few cultural festivals have reappeared, and a small number of visitors sometimes only get as far as Tyre. The rehabilitation of the Tyre Rest House, completed in 1996, proved to be a success, with an occupancy rate peaking in the summer season.

Trade and Services. As is the case nationally, trade and services dominate enterprises in the southern Lebanon, with retail trade representing more than half of its activities.

Traditional handicrafts such as cutlery, pottery, carpets, jewelry, and leather, remain a well-integrated activity in southern Lebanon and neighboring regions. However, taking into consideration that tourism has ceased and much of the population has been displaced, many of these activities transferred to Beirut. The return to normalcy and a reactivated tourist industry would spur renewed vigor to this sector.

In brief, the Israeli occupation resulted in the dislocation of markets for goods and services and induced a near cessation of economic activities in southern Lebanon: industry and trade are in recession, tourism is almost non-existent and agriculture regressed.
The economy of southern Lebanon was also characterized by the predominant presence of activities directly related to the Israeli occupation, such as permanent or seasonal employment in Israel, enrollment in the “Southern Lebanon Army” militia (SLA) and its “civil administration”, and economic spin-offs of the Israeli military presence in the former occupied zone, in addition to income derived from activities brought on by the presence of UNIFIL, as well as financial allowances granted to the children and families of the soldiers of the resistance against Israeli occupation and the SLA. Most of these activities have ceased after the Israeli withdrawal.

Infrastructure and equipment

Due to the occupation, this region of Lebanon has been neglected, and public infrastructure and services has suffered major losses during the past three decades. The Lebanese Government has undertaken efforts to provide urgent reparations and maintenance of public networks and launched developmental infrastructure projects for Tyre and Nabatieh, focusing mainly on drinking water and sanitation.

  • In general, the state of the road network is below acceptable levels even after taking into consideration the work executed during the last years. The project for the extension of the coastal highway to Tyre is being executed.
  • As far as electricity is concerned, the southern region still faces problems with the general state of the distribution network and access to power.
  • Up until 1993, only six telecommunication power stations have been installed in the region, a number that is remarkably insufficient. Projects aiming at increasing this number to 37 have been slowed down by the occupation of the southern territories.
  • With regard to sanitation, the situation can be qualified as critical.
  • The principal health problems of the previously occupied zone include an insufficient number of hospitals and hospital beds, the lack of qualified personnel, the lack of means of transportation and a low availability of special services such as dental care, radiology and basic services, nursing homes and social centers.
  • Practically all the schools in the region suffer from lack of equipment in laboratories, libraries, teachers’ rooms and infirmaries. The heating, lighting, telephone and drinking water equipment need serious rehabilitation.

Strengths, opportunities and challenges

The present situation of southern Lebanon should not undermine the fact that this region possesses important potential for development, which should be harnessed as soon as possible. This potential is based on four main factors:

  • The population, which is relatively numerous, young, educated, strongly attached to the region and sustained by a large and successful emigrant population. The South can profit from the dynamism of its population, whether they be residents in Lebanon or living elsewhere.
  • The strategic location, including important urban centers (Tyre and Nabatieh), a road axis linking it to Beirut and regional networks, and the relatively cheap cost of lands and agricultural areas. Agricultural and fisheries development, and the fishing industry are a strategic choice for Lebanon and more particularly for South Lebanon. In fact, South Lebanon has at its disposal 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 if properly exploited, developed and managed.
  • The water resources, where developmental projects of the Litani River and other water resources can have an major effect on the economic and social dynamics of the region.
  • The historical religious and archeological sites and areas of natural beauty which offer potential for development of tourism. Southern Lebanon offers many sites superior in quality for ecological tourism compared to those in bordering countries. Furthermore, the diversity of the region’s sites will attract a variety of tourists for a more even spread of arrivals. Weather conditions and untapped seashore areas add to this advantage.

Moreover, South Lebanon can potentially exploit numerous opportunities for development, in particular:

  • The mobilization of important investment, particularly from the emigrant community, on condition of the availability of infrastructure and facilitating investment frameworks.
  • The capacity of becoming a regional food and agricultural production center, given that such development is constrained in most of the neighboring countries by the lack of water resources;
  • The capacity to attract part of the expected increase in tourism to the Near East.
  • South Lebanon will also have to face important challenges that can threaten the prospects of development. These challenges include:
  • The necessity of creating thousands of jobs for existing population and in order to face the return of a significant population of displaced people. The necessity of rapidly constructing infrastructure to handle the return of the displaced and to attract investors and residents to the region;
  • The improvement of standards for agricultural and industrial products, to ensure competitiveness in the market;
  • The identification of possible tourist sites and projects and ensuring these meet required quality specifications.

The stakes in the development of South 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 Program for Southern Lebanon cannot succeed without the largest number of partners, whether financial or others providing technical assistance, financial resources, aid and grant and other contributions, including promoting private sector investment. The government of Lebanon 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.