On his first visit to Akkar’s municipal projects under the Lebanon Host Communities Support Programme, in partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme, British Ambassador to Lebanon, Hugo Shorter, inaugurated UK funded projects in Bani Sakher and Halba, and met with 13 mayors from various municipalities in Akkar which are receiving UK funding for infrastructure projects.
He was accompanied by Luca Renda, Country Director UNDP, and Suheir El Ghali, the National Coordinator of LHSP Programme at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
In a press release by the British Embassy in Beirut, it said: “In Amayer, Ambassador Shorter met with mayors of nine municipalities of Wadi Khaled area: Amayer – Al Fared – Wadi, Khaled -Khat El Petrol – Bani Sakher- El Ramah – Moqaybleh – Hisheh and Awada. He visited two irrigation canals extending across 2200m in Bani Sakher and met with the farmers and land owners. The project has helped farmers increase their income by enabling them to diversify their crop production to include more water-rich crops such as eggplants, beans, and peanuts as well as decreasing operations costs. It is also helping improve health and sanitation in the local community by reducing risks of water contamination with wastewater and solid waste.”
Release added: “In the town of Halba, Ambassador Shorter inaugurated the newly established Halba market, in presence of Akkar Governor Imad Labaki and listened to heads of El Hissa, Tell Meayan, Bebnine, Tell Abbas Gharbi and Halba municipalities who shared their hopes about the future of the region. Set in 6,000m2 of public space, the market has the capacity to accommodate around 390 traders yearly that come from 216 villages in Akkar. Located in the center of Halba and easily accessible for residents living in the Akkar governorate, the public market facility will be operational seven days a week serving all residents of the area.”
In his delivered word, Ambassador Shorter said: ‘Today, I want to say: the UK has not forgotten Akkar. Seeing is believing. Seeing the mayors of 14 municipalities in Akkar, farmers, land owners, individual producers, women cooperatives from various villages in Akkar, all working together with pride and doing their bit to improve the livelihoods of their communities, I believe that Lebanon with its resilience and with the UK standing by your side, will make a success out of the current crisis. It makes me proud to see how the UK is supporting you on the ground with actions, not just words.”
Shorter added: “The Akkar district, like many regions in Lebanon, has been affected by the presence of very large numbers of Syrian refugees, hosted generously by your communities with limited resources, creating unprecedented challenging circumstances for many of your municipalities. We recognize the difficulties and we have responded with projects that match your needs. We have funded 19 municipality projects in Akkar since 2015. A public market in Halba that serves over half a million residents, with 390 traders coming from 216 villages in Akkar. Over 2200m of irrigation canals for better crops, and water management.”
The Ambassador went to say: “And this is what we are doing through the Lebanon Host Communities Support Programme across 13 municipalities in Akkar, and 49 municipalities across Lebanon, to help address your infrastructure and socioeconomic gaps with improved agricultural equipment, infrastructure, irrigation, sewage, lighting and vocational training.”
Shorter concluded: “I’m particularly pleased that these communities are better able to go about their daily lives and business in safety, thanks to Border Regiments of the LAF which we have been training, equipping and mentoring since 2011. This example is a clear demonstration of how security and economic prospects go hand in hand.?”
For his part, Mayor of Halba Abdel Hameed el Halabi said: ‘Halba municipality has dedicated over the many years of the crisis every effort and energy to maintaining security and stability for citizens and those travelling through. It is home to most institutions, government departments and various other services. Every day the people of Akkar meet here from various walks of life, as the town is the economic center of the region. That is in addition to the flow of resident and registered refugees from various towns to look for jobs and housing. We have never once shun away despite the risks posed on us. For the continuation of the crisis and the scarcity of resources are factors that contribute to the increasing tensions and destabilisation of social stability. I and members of the municipal council in Halba sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the implementation of this project, especially the British government through the British Department for International Development, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme. And I stress the importance of cooperation and continuity in an effort to contain the crisis and deal with it as an opportunity of development which addresses the current needs and establishes sustainability in the long term.’
Luca Renda, UNDP Country Director, for her part, said: ‘Akkar must continue to be a priority for the government, the UN and the international community. The highest poverty rates among the Lebanese are found here. And it was here, five years ago, where the first Syrian refugees found shelter from the war. UNDP advocates for assistance to Lebanese host communities as an indispensable component of the international response, an investment in resilience and stability. We are privileged to work with such dedicated professional at the Ministry of Social Affairs and the municipalities. And we are deeply grateful to the UK for having championed our efforts throughout these years.’
National Coordinator of the Lebanon Host Communities Support Programme at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Suheir El Ghali said: ‘The Akkar province since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, has been the first shelter for the displaced Syrians in Lebanon. But the inflation in the population, which occurred in many regions of Akkar, has put municipalities in front of enormous challenges and pressures that exceed their ability to respond and confront. This is also the case in Halba. There is no doubt that the establishment of “Local Halba market” as a basic need identified by the people of the town and the municipality, will contribute in creating a space in which local merchants, cooperatives, entrepreneurs and women’s associations meet with consumers, encouraging trade, and reviving the area economically, and providing equal opportunities for all on the district levels.’
During his visit to Akkar, Ambassador Shorter also visited the First Land Border Regiment to see the progress made a year on since his last visit in December 2015.