Tomorrow [May 11, 2012], Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahieh will mark what residents there like to call the “third victory,” after the May 2000 liberation and the July 2006 war. The Waad Foundation, which is owned by [Hezbollah-run real-estate foundation] Jihad al-Bina, has completed reconstructing what was destroyed in Dahieh during the July 2006 war. Hezbollah’s secretary-general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had fought back against the “Dahieh Doctrine” — an Israeli military doctrine introduced during the 2006 war designed to break morale by targeting civilian infrastructure in asymmetric urban warfare — in a speech given on August 14, 2009. That day, he declared, “If Israel bombs Dahieh, we will bomb Tel-Aviv.”
In May 2000, the month that witnessed Israel’s withdrawal from the south, Hezbollah decided to hold a celebration on Shura Street. That particular street holds symbolic significance for the party since it was the former location of the Shura Council, in which Hezbollah is a member. It was also the primary “secure sector” in Dahieh. That “secure sector” was completely destroyed during the war, and now, five years later, it has been completely rebuilt. Nasrallah is expected to passionately address Dahieh’s inhabitants, feeding off of the emotions stirred by the restoration of what was destroyed during the war.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Waad completed the reconstruction quickly in comparison with some of the other reconstruction projects in Lebanon, which have proven capable of taking many more years. After criticism was directed at Hezbollah of overstepping the government and taking control of the reconstruction process, it has been revealed that even until today, the government has not fully compensated Dahieh’s inhabitants. The homes in Dahieh could have shared the same fate with those destroyed during the civil war, whose owners are still slowly being compensated 22 years later.
Hezbollah leaders have repeatedly insisted that reconstruction would be completed regardless of compensation delays or nonpayments. Hezbollah’s opponents have said that since Hezbollah was the cause of the destruction, it is natural that they should be responsible for the reconstruction. However, this logic should then also apply to everyone, because the destruction in Lebanon was the result of wars fought by multiple parties and factions. The various sides should rebuild what they destroyed, and it is not for the government to compensate the people.
What's most important is that all the buildings that were destroyed in Dahieh have been rebuilt in a way that maintains the pre-2006 social fabric. This is not what happened in downtown Beirut, where the area’s social and physical composition was completely altered in the reconstruction following the civil war.
5,700 Residential and Commercial Units
Waad’s director Hassan al-Jishi said that 270 buildings in Dahieh were completely destroyed. Waad has reconstructed 239 of them, and financially and technically contributed to rebuilding 19 more after their owners expressed their wishes to reconstruct them themselves. The owners of 12 other buildings that were occupied by long-time renters decided not to reconstruct them. Every long-time renter was compensated with 25 million Lebanese pounds from the Fund for the Displaced, and $10,000 to $15,000 more from Waad — depending on the apartment’s surface area — in order to assist them in buying new apartments. Some used their compensation money to build a house in the south instead.
The new buildings, on which construction began in June 2007, comprise 5,700 residential and commercial units. The first building was completed in 2008; 66 buildings were completed in 2009; 94 in 2010, when the old-time renters issue was resolved; and 100 buildings in 2011. At the end of February 2012, the last seven buildings were completed. Waad will be following up on the problems facing the apartment owners for another year.
The total cost of the reconstruction amounted to $400 million. The funds took the form of cash, donations and grants for construction materials. On the other hand, the total compensation paid out by the government was about $213.9 million, of which $133.9 million was paid from the Fund for the Displaced. Some $80 million in compensation funds are still outstanding. The issue of reinforcing the buildings adjacent to those that collapsed was not part of the government compensation plan, which led Jihad al-Bina to undertake the project at a cost of nearly $7 million.
The government has paid 33.5% of the total project cost so far. About two months ago, the government approved an additional 175 billion Lebanese pounds ($117 million) to complete its compensation program in Dahieh, the south of Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley region. However, that money has not yet reached the Higher Relief Council, the Fund for the Displaced or the Council of the South.
4,000 Workers During Peak Periods
According to al-Jishi, the reconstruction operation faced many arduous challenges due to the fact that no empty land was available. Dahieh is a densely populated area, with only some narrow empty spaces. He said that the number of workers during the reconstruction project — from construction workers to engineers, metallurgists, carpenters and electricians — reached 4,000 during peak periods. This required major coordination efforts with the municipalities to facilitate the movement of trucks carrying building materials.
Waad also faced some administrative challenges for some of the buildings that had to be resolved without burdening their owners with the cost. For example, the Hassan Complex, which Israel destroyed in the war’s final day, constituted eight buildings over an area of 4,500 square meters. Five buildings were then constructed on the original land, and Waad bought 4,000 square meters of adjacent land to build the remaining three buildings.
It was discovered that one of the buildings, which included 19 apartments, was under a bank lien and its owner was bankrupt. Waad had to buy the land under lien before starting construction. Elsewhere, Waad completely removed an illegal building that a trader built on a parking lot located between two other buildings he owned. The foundation compensated the seven apartment owners that lived in the illegal building.
As is common with any construction project, Waad received many complaints. There were rumors that cheap floor tiles were used in some apartments, but al-Jishi asserted that all the floor tiles were from Turkish and Portuguese manufacturing firms. There were also many complaints that the sizes of the apartments had been reduced. Al-Jishi responded to this by stating that the apartments were the same size as before, with some modifications in the interior plans, except for one building on Abbas al-Musawi Street which was significantly reduced because the old building was illegally encroaching onto the street. Those apartments shrank from 160 to 135 square meters, but their owners were compensated by a dollar amount which exceeded the value of the difference in surface area.
A number of residents complained that some apartment owners seized the water tanks that were placed in the buildings. Al-Jishi explained that all of the water tanks were given to the heads of the building committees, and they were responsible for them.
Many of the destroyed buildings were old and beyond their usable age. Thus, modern specifications and services were added to the new buildings, such as earthquake resistance, locations for electric generators, artesian wells, government installations for drinking water, fire extinguishers, two-door elevators, outer double walls and porcelain-coated water heaters that are resistant to the country’s hard water.
Additional underground car garages able to accommodate 9,000 cars were built through the construction of additional basement levels or through the purchase of previously existing basements. All of the garage floors were coated with granite.
The roads have been rehabilitated in cooperation with the Council for Development and Reconstruction. They were also connected to the electrical grid in cooperation with Électricité Du Liban, the water grid in cooperation with the water authority of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, and phone lines in cooperation with Ogero. The roads are expected to be completed in the next few days. Trees have been planted on the sidewalks and commercial shops in Shura Street have matching curtains to give the street a harmonious appearance.
The reconstruction project involved 23 contractors and 50 engineering companies, while seven companies supervised the implementation.
Since it was a great experience, the Waad Foundation decided to document the process. Waad engineers and workers are writing reports about their involvement and those reports will be collected in one volume. Waad has also decided to prepare a major workshop in the coming months to discuss the post-war reconstruction experience. Foreign, Arab and Lebanese engineers and experts are expected to take part in the workshop.