Monday, August 07, 2006

Business and humanitarian news

Apologies for not writing for a few days, I had to work all weekend and have been working everyday for over a month now - tiring to say the least, and the early morning bombs on the southern suburbs don’t help REM sleep…
Had a conversation with the vice president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association (the Prez is out of the country), Charles Arbid, and what he had to say was rather gloomy: 95% of factories have shut and 35 destroyed (including dairy, glass, shoes and clothing).
He thinks what industry is still running, mainly food industries as the only good people are buying, will also close within two weeks unless a "Safe Economic Corridor" is created to let in essential supplies, raw materials and fuel. So far no corridor has been established and the two oil tankers that have bobbed off the coastline for the last several days are still there. The tankers’ insurers are refusing to let them dock unless the Israelis give a guarantee of safe passage. The request has been refused.
Arbid described the situation as a “blockade” (as he stressed to an EU official): there is only one border crossing, in the north, but with bridges destroyed on Friday just north of Beirut, transporting goods is difficult and with 450 trucks targeted by warplanes, many truckers are refusing to work unless they are paid handsomely for the risk.
Only aid relief planes are landing at the airport, and all ports are closed. The Bekaa valley, the “breadbasket” of Lebanon and an industrial hub, is equally out of action. As it was, Lebanon imported an estimated 90% of its food requirements.
Conservative estimates put the damage to the economy at a conservative $2.6 billion and $200 million in losses for the industrial sector.
Interestingly, the association highlighted the fact that Lebanon signed the EU-Lebanon Association Agreement in 2002.
“The Agreement calls for the creation of “area of prosperity” among the EU and its Mediterranean partners. Israeli military action and overwhelming military force are not compatible with this area of prosperity that we aspire to build.”
The country is also facing a major brain drain. Many Lebanese with dual citizenship may opt to work and live elsewhere, and are increasingly likely to do if the conflict continues. As it was many young Lebanese left if they could to study and work abroad; that attraction will only increase in a country struggling to get back on its feet.

And to end on some different “industry” news:
A friend of mine asked a hash dealer how business was in the current climate.
“Great, I am selling a lot. You always sell more in war.”
“Just hash?”
“No, everything. Heroin, cocaine, tranquilisers…kulshi! (everything). Look, I have just bought a new Mercedes!”
I hear it’s the same story on the other side of the border - some might call it a form of ‘war profiteering.’

Abass, a friend of mine from the south, volunteered to act as a guide for humanitarian vehicles heading to the villages in the war-scarred south, knowing the relevant back roads and alternative routes through banana plantations needed to avoid craters and destroyed bridges. After several runs in the past ten days, he says he is no longer going to do it. Yesterday a bomb landed 18 meters in front of his vehicle, the lead vehicle.
“Then my family here saw me on TV, they were not happy I was there, especially as they didn’t know [about the volunteer work].”

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