Poverty exacerbates problems in Tripoli

In the wake of yet another explosion, studies indicate that the level of poverty in Tripoli is increasing.

al-monitor Boys sit in a slum in Tripoli, Dec. 17, 2014. The informal settlement has seen an influx of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in their country.  Photo by REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim.

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tripoli, poverty, lebanon, lebanese politics, lebanese policy, lebanese economy

Jan 13, 2015

Once again politicians and influential people meet in Tripoli to lament the poverty of this city, which is thoroughly documented in studies showing that social, economic, health and humanitarian indicators are declining in Lebanon’s second city.

Once again, funds are [given to undertake] a study of the poverty level while official [development] funds are withheld from any project that would actually reduce this poverty, provide job opportunities for youth or raise the social level of the most miserable popular areas.

It seems obvious that international institutions are competing to draft studies of the level of poverty in Tripoli to the extent that the funds spent on these studies became equivalent to [an amount that would contribute to] a part of the growth requirement of this city.

Each time, officials take the lead to confirm their inability to redress their city or put pressure on the state to restart stalled projects or hold those that are imposed on the city and prejudice its social fabric, reality and future. This includes the project for the establishment of a car park in al-Tal Square and the project to cover the Abu Ali River.

The study prepared by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Affairs showed that the social deterioration has reached a particularly serious level. It showed that the various dimensions of poverty are strongly interrelated in terms of funds, health, housing and education. This indicates that poverty in its multiple aspects is horizontally expanding in Tripoli, which for decades was a city of well-being with only pockets of poverty. It has been, however, turned into a poor city with some pockets of well-being today.

The study indicated that 57% of Tripoli’s population are poor and deprived and 26% of them suffer extreme poverty and are classified within the most disadvantaged category. 77% are economically stumbling, 35% suffer health problems, 35% live in inadequate housings and 25% are deprived of education.

The study also showed that the rate of poverty and deprivation varies from one area of the city to the other. It reached its peak in the neighborhood of Bab el Tebeneh and al-Sowaiqa with 87% of families [classed as in poverty], followed by 75% in the old city, 69% in al-Qibba and Jabal Mohsen, 63% in al-Mina, 36% in al-Tal and Zahrieh, 26% in Basatin el Mina and 19% in Basatin Tripoli.

The dire poverty and extreme deprivation levels are distributed as follows: 52% of families in the Bab el Tebeneh and al-Sowaiqa, 36% in the old city, 28% in al-Mina, 28% in al-Qibba and Jabal Mohsen, 11% in al-Tal and Zahrieh, 10% in Basatin el Mina and 10% in Basatin Tripoli.

The study summarized Tripoli’s problem by stating that the developmental, economic, social, cultural and urban balance have reached a state of dynamic degradation and erosion. The study called for the mobilization of institutional, human, financial, economic, social and cultural resources by of launching of an alternative positive dynamic to move the city from the path of marginalization to the path of progress and development.

Moreover, the study confirmed that the results cannot be treated in a static manner without addressing the root causes and without launching mechanisms and systems to allow finding autonomous and sustainable solutions to problems. The study also emphasized that the advancement of Tripoli could be an opportunity to stimulate national growth, by ending the state of continuous and constant marginalization and degradation in the cities of al-Fayhaa Union of Municipalities. This must fall within the scope of a visionary project for the role of Tripoli and its environs in the launch of an economic development dynamic. This will have positive effects on the situation in the city itself and open additional possibilities for restoring growth and the path of comprehensive development at the national level.

The study presented three complementary paths to cater to the needs and capacities. The first path consists of ensuring security and stability, which are prerequisites for any development plan. The second path is to launch a comprehensive economic dynamic that is in line with the national economy and that revolves around finding job opportunities for the youth. This dynamic should have strong social content that contributes to fighting poverty and inequality and should be coupled with conclusive and regional social intervention programs to promote justice and equality between the genders and boost youth participation.

Third, efforts should be put in place to change the image of Tripoli for the outside world and to develop the citizens’ behavior and values in the framework of painting an alluring image of the city for its citizens in order to feed their sense of belonging. Moreover, the level of educational as well as the level of competence for the youth should be improved.

Aspects of development

The study specified five areas for development:

• The political-organizational area: The traces of old feuds should be overcome through improving the political environment in the city, reducing the intensity of political competition, reinforcing the security plan, establishing a local reconciliation committee, following up with the issue of legal detainees, forming a committee to manage the issue of displaced Syrians and finding a local mechanism for political dialogue.

• Economic aspect: Replenishing an economic dynamic by supporting the small and medium sectors while working with state officials to activate project funding, setting a vision for Tripoli’s economic role, implementing big projects, supporting small and middle sized projects as well as traditional crafts, developing tourism and putting in place a new plan for transportation.

• Social aspect: Reducing the levels of deprivation and improving living standards, solving the school dropout rate and child labor phenomena and promoting the role of the civil community.

• Cultural aspect: Promoting educational level and skills, developing behavior, values and the culture of rights, development, tolerance and respect for the law among the city's population, promoting cultural life, developing Tripoli’s festivals sustainably, granting outstanding students as well as people in need scholarships and organizing workshops for influential figures, including clerics.

• Environmental-urban: Organizing urban planning, preserving cultural heritage, public property and green spaces, and reducing all sorts of pollution.

Interestingly, the study’s frightening figures and developed proposals were met with groundless theories, at a time when Tripoli really needs the state to give it attention and put a comprehensive and rapid development plan in place before it is too late.

After ESCWA regional adviser Adib Nehmeh exposed the details of the study, head of the Chamber of Commerce Tawfiq Dabbousi welcomed the participants. After that, head of the municipality of Tripoli Nader Ghazal admitted his slackening in the city and blamed the municipal council, saying that it has become a burden weighing down the people.

Luca Rinda, director of Lebanon's office in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), voiced his concern that the problems related to poverty might exacerbate and lead to increased social conflicts if we do not take the necessary steps.

Mohamed Nour stated, on behalf of the Arab Urban Development Institute, the standards and considerations that the study was based on.

Abdullah Dardari, the ESCWA's deputy executive secretary, called for finding an economic vision for Tripoli and asserted that the organization will view the city from a regional perspective. Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas emphasized the importance of everybody participating in saving Tripoli.

The ESCWA's conclusions included:

1. Tripoli is a poor city with some rich areas.

2. The different dimensions of poverty are strongly interrelated.

3. It is important to primarily aim at reducing the disparities in the city.

4. It is important to implement huge projects for economic development.

5. There is a need for a strong central and local leadership.

6. The local political competition is harmful and encourages chaos.

7. The image of Tripoli should be redrawn.

8. The city has underlying and unused potential.

9. The general path is headed to impoverishment and deterioration.

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