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