BISSARIEH/SARAFAND, Lebanon: In a run-down fish market in Sarafand, a coastal town located between Sidon and Tyre, British and United Nations Development Program officials step over muddy puddles that have formed on the uneven floor and gesture to the brine-covered walls.
Rust has worn holes in the ramshackle market’s corrugated iron roof and reeds intrude through broken windows. Regardless, some 1,000 local fishermen use the building each day, weighing and cleaning their catches while swatting away flies.
The market is now set to be renovated at a cost of more than $170,000 thanks to a project being implemented by UNDP with funds from the British government. The initiative will completely overhaul the facility and includes the installation of a cooler to help prevent spoilage.
For U.K. Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher, this is an example of how the Syrian refugee crisis has afforded donor countries and international organizations the opportunity to help improve Lebanese infrastructure.
“It’s very easy to understand why people feel very pessimistic about the situation,” Fletcher told a gathering of municipal leaders during a tour of south Lebanon.
“But one positive here is that there is support that we can bring now [to Lebanon] as a result of this crisis that would not have existed if this crisis wasn’t happening ... There is a development dividend to this crisis.”
Fletcher said the U.K. was committed to long-term development projects that would benefit Lebanese populations well after the refugee crisis went away.
And it is definitely needed.
South Lebanon has struggled with inadequate public services and facilities for decades, issues that were exacerbated by the 2006 war with Israel. The presence of over 120,000 Syrian refugees has thrown these problems into sharper relief, however, and attracted the interest of donors hoping to support Lebanese host communities affected by the Syrian crisis.
“More and more the international community is realizing that to sustain the solidarity of the Lebanese people ... it’s important to support the Lebanese communities directly,” said Luca Renda, head of the UNDP in Lebanon.
“This is an opportunity to address those problems that existed before but have become worse because of the [refugee] crisis,” he said. “In a way, these communities now have opportunities to make investments that can improve their life for a long time.”