Life in the south of Lebanon is not easy. In a country all too often ravaged by war it has suffered the most. Located along the Lebanese-Israeli border, one of the most volatile on earth, its residents live a life of uncertainty. In 2006 the simmering tension once again became full scale war almost without warning. The same could happen again. Southerners know this perhaps better than anyone else, and, as one can imagine, stress related mental disorders are widespread.
The scars of war are visible everywhere. Southern Lebanon is littered with unexploded landmines and cluster bombs. These, combined with injuries sustained during conflicts, mean that the South has a high number of physically challenged individuals. These individuals are severely limited in their opportunities. Again, it is war that is the main culprit, as it has prevented sustainable development and destroyed infrastructure. Services for the physically challenged are hindered by poor micro-economic conditions, as those areas which are the most economically depressed tend to also have high numbers of physically challenged victims of conflict. The result is very little support for the physically challenged, and a very poor state of accessibility.
Southern Lebanon suffers from high unemployment among the general population, and the physically challenged in particular have little chance of obtaining meaningful employment. Research indicates that 85 percent of landmine victims regard lack of employment opportunities and economic reintegration as their main concern. Insufficient access to training, education, and capital means they often lack marketable skills, making it extremely difficult for them to achieve economic independence. As long as this continues, the physically challenged will be unable to break the cycle of dependence that is extremely detrimental to their self-esteem and emotional well-being.
More than three years have passed since the end of the 2006 war, but the damage lingers. It has left a legacy of poverty and uncertainty to a region that is a stranger to neither. During the war between 1.2 and 4 million cluster munitions were dropped. About 40% of these cluster bomblets did not explode. Many of them have yet to be cleared, and they continue to kill and main. The bomblets have also severely damaged agriculture, rendering formerly fertile fields into virtual no-mans lands. Hundreds have been killed since the end of the conflict, and farmers take risks by continuing to work fields which have yet to be fully cleared. They do so because if they do not work the fields, they will become one more in a growing number of unemployed. Additionally, landmines are a part of daily existence. There are an estimated 150,000 landmines still deployed in Lebanon. The vast majority of minefields remain both unmarked and unfenced. Alongside cluster munitions they destroy both lives and livelihoods.
The impact of the landmine problem in southern Lebanon also includes issues of internally displaced people, basic services and socio-economic development. After the conflict, all humanitarian and development assistance efforts were hampered by the threat of mines, resulting in a lack of rehabilitation and resettlement areas, a lack of land for agriculture, an increase in costs of development, a deterrent to tourism and, of course, a devastating impact on people. Experience has shown that an integrated approach to a landmine/UXO and social rehabilitation problem in an affected country is necessary to achieve maximum efficiency, to reduce risk, and to achieve increased security. Additionally, an integrated response could address the problems of mine/UXO surveying, marking and clearance; terrain verification; and mine awareness in a coherent and coordinated manner.
HCI has had a long history of working to improve the lives of land mine and UXO victims in the region, we have collaborated since 1995 on numerous projects with local partner Tamkeen Association for Independent Living, which is a nonprofit organization that takes care of the disabled and works on their rehabilitation. Some of the many projects implemented by HCI include equipping the special education center, early intervention center and the physiotherapy treatment center for rehabilitation of disabled people (particularly landmine victims), securing emergency relief funds for those affected by the July 2006 war and the numerous conflicts the area has seen, a landmine and unexploded ordnance danger awareness program and a micro loan program for disabled people and their families among others.
HCI’s latest venture with Tamkeen is the Backyard Production Support project. The project provides complementary services to the farmers and entrepreneurs such as offering them seeds, soil fertilizers or any materials they may need -all free of cost – to improve their production, better manage their projects, and of course support their livelihoods as small scale farmers and entrepreneurs. The importance of this project lies in the fact that the beneficiaries are able to secure an income through micro farming and other enterprises close to or outside their homes, without the need to commute, placing them on the path towards self sustainability and improving their self esteem. We would like to share with you the stories of some of the individuals who benefited from the Agricultural Extension Project.
Nasser Obeid is thirty seven years old; he lives in the Southern Village of Jibchit. He is the sole breadwinner to a family of eight children. He used to be a construction worker, but after stepping on a landmine he was disabled as a result of his injuries and was unable to continue construction work. Last year he started a small backyard farming and cow rearing project as a more feasible way for him to support his family given his current physical condition.
Since receiving HCI’s small grant Nasser’s backyard project has been very successful, he is aiming to buy ten thousand Carob plants in the near future.
Samih Nasser is forty five year old father of two daughters that have speech and hearing disabilities. He lives in the southern village of Deir Syrian. In 2001 he was injured by a landmine and as a result his left leg was amputated below the knee, he is still undergoing treatment and rehabilitation.
Samih used to own a small shop near his home that he was unable to continue running, this caused him a lot of anxiety, and he was eventually forced to close it down. HCI’s intervention has helped him operate a small farm near his home and given him hope that his family will have a better future.
Houssam Tabajah is thirty six years old and lives in the southern village of Kfartibnit. After a land mine accident he lost his leg and as a result of severe head trauma also lost his sight.
Thanks to HCI’s intervention he was able to successfully set up and operate a small kiosk that sells food items and snacks among other things. Houssam’s success has inspired him to dream of bigger plans for the future; his new goal will be to eventually set up a citrus farm and raise cows.