SEER/MBREBBINE, Lebanon: Despite its stunning natural beauty, the Dinnieh region’s remoteness has left it underdeveloped and impoverished. Eight years ago, the European Union decided to embark on a project to develop the area through a series of sustainable projects, including roadwork, water irrigation and rehabilitation of health centers.
“We wanted to work in one of the poorest zones in the north,” said program manager Bruno Montariol, on his way to an EU delegation visit to Dinnieh from Beirut, led by Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst.
On Wednesday, she visited the nearly three-year ongoing project to redevelop the northern region, executed by the Council of Development and Reconstruction. Officials said the area also had potential for sustainable development and ecotourism given its unspoiled nature and resources.
The group’s first stop was the plain of Mbrebbine, where Eichhorst was greeted with village hospitality: tea, fresh walnuts and apples from the nearby trees as well as a drum and dabke performance.
“I’m here to listen,” she said, as she sat with her hosts from the village, emphasizing that all of the 18 million euros of EU-funded development that was in the works was being led by local municipalities.
In fact, it was the local leaders who picked the projects that they deemed most crucial to their communities, she said. During her visit, the ambassador also praised the area’s rare beauty.
The Dinnieh region has some of Lebanon’s highest mountains and deepest valleys, at more than 3,000 meters, overlooking the Akkar and Syrian coastal plains. It is also home to the country’s greatest biodiversity, including the largest cedar forest as well as rare Juniper trees, as well as the largest aquifer reserve and the largest known number of natural springs.
Unfortunately, it also has the highest percentage of barren land due to drought, the poorest agriculture sector, the highest rate of illiteracy and the worst infrastructure in the country.
So far, the area has started to reap the benefits of 100 km of agricultural routes and 30 km of canal irrigation, with the rehabilitation of health centers on the way.
The next stop on the tour was a 1930s art deco hotel in the town of Seer, where the ambassador was awarded the key to the city in the presence of around 200 local leaders, including religious figures. The site holds special historic significance as the place where the country’s first beauty queen was crowned and where electricity service began. Today, the town lacks a youth center and basic services.
In her speech, the ambassador noted the area’s trove of treasures were under threat from unsustainable development, which also comes at a time when it is hosting around 35,000 Syrian refugees. She urged everyone to take responsibility for protecting their own history, culture and environment.
Sitting in the audience, Sawsan Al-Alam, director of social affairs, said she was pleased with the work so far, and hoped it could continue beyond its completion in 2014.
“If the people want to, I hope we’ll be able to continue,” she said.