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US helps to revive economy of zone once occupied by Israel

The United States has funded a series of projects to help revive the crippled economy of southern Lebanon following the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces five years ago.

The projects, launched by the US NGO Mercy Corps in 2002, aim to revive farming and tourism in the southern provinces of Hasbaya and Marjayoun and equip young people there with IT skills.

The two provinces, situated in the foot-hills of 3,000-metre-high Mount Hermon, were occupied by Israeli forces from 1978 until 2000.

They became a battlefield between the Israeli army and the Shi'ite fighters of Hizbollah (Party of God) and an estimated 175,000 people fled the region in search of safety.

Few have returned since the Israeli withdrawal, partly because of a lack of jobs in the area.

Many of the region’s farms have been abandoned and residents who stayed put during the Israeli occupation can no longer commute over the border to work in Israeli factories. Other jobs linked to the presence of Israeli forces in southern Lebanon have also disappeared.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates unemployment in southern Lebanon at 20 to 20 percent.

“The area suffered greatly during the war,” said Andy Dwonch, the head of Mercy Corps in Lebanon. “Lands were deserted and people could not come and visit. After the war there was hardly any work.”

The Mercy Corps projects, which are now drawing to a close, were funded by a US $12.5 million dollar grant from USAID.

One initiative was a forage project, which has helped 250 farmers in southern Lebanon to produce more cattle fodder through the supply of improved machinery and technology.

Another project has helped a group of 22 farmers to produce and market organic fruit and vegetables.

The group, which turns some of its produce into jam and pastes, now has its sales outlet in Beirut. It has even started to ship its products abroad.

"Last month we exported the first US $5,000 worth of goods to the United Arab Emirates," said Mercy Corps agricultural expert Mohamed Jameel.

There has also been a drive to promote tourism.

In the hills above the town of Khiyam, Mercy Corps are building a hotel with 18 bungalows for guests and a conference hall that overlooks the plains of Israel.

Nearby, a British-built World War II bunker has been restored and converted into a museum and 380 hectares of woodland frequented by migratory birds have been turned into a nature reserve.

In the town of Hasbaya, a holy city for Lebanon's Druze community, several archeological sites and buildings have been restored.

A publicity campaign to lure Lebanese tourists back to the south will be launched in the spring.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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