Almost 85 Percent of Families in Tripoli Living in Deprivation

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An elderly lady sits outside in one of Tripoli's impoverished neighborhoods. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

By: Abdel Kafi al-Samad

Published Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Up to 57 percent of families in Tripoli are “impoverished,” including 26 percent that are “extremely impoverished.” These families are concentrated in poverty-stricken neighborhoods like Bab al-Tabbaneh and Suwaiqa, where 87 percent of households are in deprivation, compared to 19 percent in the Basatine district for example. Meanwhile, neighborhoods said to be in a “transitional situation” are vulnerable to gradual impoverishment transforming them from middle-class neighborhoods to slums, such as al-Tall and Zahrieh.

Minister of Social Affairs Rashid Derbas was shocked by the “horrifying facts” revealed by the Urban Deprivation Index report for Tripoli, prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs together with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The report focuses on extreme poverty blighting the capital of North Lebanon, though the revelations of the report did not come as a surprise to many in the city.

The 400-page report was launched in a ceremony at the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture in Tripoli and was attended by ministers Derbas, Ghazi Zaiter, and Ashraf Rifi, in addition to MPs and dignitaries from Tripoli and the North. ESCWA’s Regional Advisor Adib Nehme summarized the facts collated as part of a field and analytical study in October 2011 involving a random sample that consisted of 1,500 families from various parts of the cities of Tripoli and al-Mina.

According to the report, 57 percent of families in Tripoli are “deprived,” 26 percent are very deprived, and 28 percent are relatively deprived, while non-deprived families account for only 15 percent.

Tripoli was divided into seven regions (excluding the Abi Samra district whose residents purportedly did not cooperate with the field research team). The study showed vast differences in poverty rates between one area and another, sometimes with a fourfold difference being found.

The figures show that Bab al-Tabbaneh and Suwaiqa are the poorest neighborhoods in the city, with up to 87 percent of families there living in deprivation, followed by the old city with the figure there standing at 75 percent, Qobbeh and Jabal Mohsen with 69 percent, Mina with 63 percent, al-Tall and Zahrieh with 36 percent, and Basatine al-Mina with 26 percent. In the Basatine area of tripoli, only 19 percent of families are deprived. This area encompasses neighborhoods and streets like al-Miatayn, Azmi, Mina Road, al-Dam wal Farz, and al-Maarad.

The report examined at length what it termed the evolution of poverty in Tripoli, based on a field study conducted by engineer Diran Harmandian in 2001. A comparison between the two studies shows that poverty has expanded geographically in the city, and that impoverished and semi-impoverished neighborhoods and slums are still in the same conditions they were 10 years ago. According to the ESCWA study, this indicates that the general trend of the social situation and living standards in Tripoli is on a path of deterioration and decline, making deprivation in 2011 more widespread than it was in 2001. In other words, previous policies and interventions, if any, were ineffective.

The study mentioned that the previous impression holding the Boulevard area in Tripoli separated the poor and modern parts of the city is no longer valid, because poverty and deprivation are spreading and expanding. The general trend in Tripoli is downwards, the study states, while the trend in surrounding areas is upwards.

Nehme illustrated this with examples of poverty and deprivation in the marginalized areas of Tripoli, including the fact that 76 percent of adults do not have a high school diploma or higher, 78 percent have no bank accounts, and 80 percent of families have never been on a social outing, such as having a meal in a restaurant.

The report made a number of conclusions. “Tripoli is an impoverished city with pockets of prosperity,” the report said. “It is not possible to describe the situation by saying that there are pockets of poverty and deprivation that can be isolated from the rest of the city,” while what can be called the middle and upper-middle class do not represent “more than 20 percent of the population.”

The study stressed that the dimensions of poverty are closely linked, and accordingly, it is not possible to address some dimensions of poverty while ignoring others if reducing inequality at the city level is the main goal.

The report called for implementing major economic development projects, saying it would not be possible to address the problem in Tripoli through small projects alone. The study argued for a strong local centralized leadership, because the path of decline in the city “began when it was politically marginalized throughout the decades.”

Furthermore, the study said local political rivalry is harmful and encourages chaos (Nehme said this was worse in Tripoli compared to other regions). Local leaders did not manage to form a unified framework to coordinate and negotiate with donors and external parties to reduce the chaos and duplicity, the study added, stressing the need to change Tripoli’s image, which can be done by “admitting the the real flaws in the image of the city as they appear in the eyes of its own people.”

But against this bleak picture, there are potentials in Tripoli that enable it to launch a dynamic development process and become a strong local development leader that believes in partnership, according to the report. The treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture Tawfiq Debussy also pointed out that “the situation in Tripoli is bad, but at the same time, it has facilities that no other Lebanese region has that allow it to emerge from its predicament.”

“Twenty years ago, Tripoli was better in terms of the living standard, social situation, and coexistence, but now this is declining,” said Minister Derbas. Derbas held the municipality of Tripoli partly responsible for becoming “an arena to settle political scores,” calling for an end to what he called the odd surrender to chronic deprivation, and to plan and work to change Tripoli’s image in the coming years and decades.

For his part, Tripoli Mayor Nader Ghazal said that poverty has become the face of the city “that haunts us wherever we go, including me personally,” a remark that was mocked by some in the audience. Ghazal continued, “The challenge ahead of us is how to emerge from this poverty, because the city has become a large village and the countryside is expanding towards it.”

In turn, Director of the UNDP office in Lebanon Luca Renda said that poverty is worsening in Tripoli after the wave of Syrian displacement, and feared that conflicts could become worse if we did not hasten to address it, because the population has had enough promises, as he said.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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