Tripoli, North Lebanon: The Forgotten City

An armed man is seen during the recent clashes in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo: Zeinoun Naboulsi)

By: Rasha Abouzaki

Published Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The violence that erupts in Tripoli every once in a while is not isolated from the city’s socio-economic realities. Indicators show that the capital of North Lebanon is one of the most underprivileged places in the country along with the neighboring towns of Minieh, Dinniyeh and the northern region of Akkar.

All of this has been extensively documented in studies by the Lebanese state and local and international organizations. But despite the clearly alarming picture of North Lebanon, the state has done nothing since the end of the civil war to develop the region, even if just to maintain a minimum level of stability.

On the contrary, some politicians have treated it as a reservoir of poor people which they could tap into when they needed to go to battle. In most cases, the battles had nothing to do with improving living conditions or achieving an adequate level of services.

Poverty in Numbers

According to the Central Administration for Statistics (CAS), there are only 17,000 [commercial] establishments in the North Lebanon governorate, compared to 73,000 thousand in Mount Lebanon and 72,000 thousand in Beirut.

Tripoli’s share of bank loans to the private sector in Lebanon does not exceed 2 percent, compared to 83 percent in Beirut and its suburbs.

Therefore, reducing the role of the state for the benefit of the private sector, which is the prominent scenario in the country’s capital, does not seem to be reflected here. The job market does not provide employment for young people, so they become hostages of “need.”

The high unemployment rates compared to other governorates in addition to school dropout rates, women’s illiteracy, child mortality and weak social security presence are further evidence of North Lebanon’s economic woes.

This leaves many of the Tripoli’s citizens at the mercy of charities belonging to the political bigwigs of the city.

The “Mapping of Human Poverty and Living Conditions in Lebanon” study published by the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) [in 2009] shows that the North has the highest percentage of very poor families, with 30.5 percent of all poor families in Lebanon.

It is also the most deprived of education (47.1 of families deprived of education in Lebanon live in North Lebanon) and health (46.2 percent). It is in second place when it comes to housing (26.3 percent) and basic utilities (37.8 percent).

In Tripoli, 57 percent of the population is considered poor, coming only behind Akkar and Minieh-Dinniyeh according to “Poverty, Growth and Income Distribution in Lebanon,” published by MoSA and UNDP in 2009.

The area of Jabal Mohsen-Bab el-Tabbaneh [the main scene of the current clashes] is in the heart of deprivation in Tripoli. A field survey by the UNDP (2011) on living and economic conditions in this section of the city shows that 67 percent of the population lives under the upper poverty line and 33 percent under the lower poverty line which indicates the ability to just provide basic alimentary needs.

Furthermore, 50.4 percent of families in Jabal Mohsen-Bab el-Tabbaneh have a monthly income of less than 500,000 Lebanese Lira (LL) (US$333) and 82 percent under LL800,000 (US$533).

Director of the Consultation and Research Institute (CRI), Kamal Hamdan, points to the lack of effective social care and the record-high school dropout rates (50 percent according to “Poverty, Growth and Income Distribution in Lebanon”). He notes that those who drop out enter the dependency circle early and thus poverty continues to be propagated.

Unfair Competition

Recently resigned Labor Minister Charbel Nahas describes the economic and social situation in Tripoli as an accumulating crisis. He does not see hostility towards the Syrian regime as anything novel or imported.

It is a reaction to pushing the area into an unfair competition with a Syrian economy that benefits from lower production costs than Lebanon. This is in direct conflict with the livelihoods of the traders, artisans and producers who form the economic foundation of Tripoli and the northern coastline.

Nahas explains that the deprivation faced by the region is a result of historical neglect from the state. In the past, Tripoli had been the center of a large region surrounding it and included areas deep into Syria.

Following independence, the economic spread of the city was reduced. Then came the civil war, isolating it from its internal surroundings. Tripoli became a densely populated city, but absent were the jobs that justify the existence of population centers.

The situation did not change as the state did not take any measures to develop Tripoli’s economy. Unemployment and poverty rates increased and a small number of extremely rich politicians appeared to play the role of the state.

Nahas explains the map of Tripoli today. There is a line that starts from the [southern] entrance of the city and reaches the Maarad neighborhood. It is similar to rich neighborhoods in Beirut.

The central area features the demarcation lines of the Boulevard and Mina (port). To the east is the remainder of the city. It is the largest and most densely populated area and it is where poverty reigns. The three areas stand out and the social divide is clearly visible.

The solution according to Nahas would be for the government not to “dissociate” itself from the crisis. It needs to take practical measures to change the situation on the ground.

An example would be principal investment in mixing Tripoli’s society so classes would not be divided geographically, in addition to bolstering relations with its surroundings.

Furthermore, residents of Tripoli should be connected to Beirut through the high speed rail project that would link the centers of the two cities.

Finally, Nahas indicates that the most difficult issue would be reaching an agreement with Syria to reopen economic ties, revive Tripoli’s port and integrate it into existing regional trade.


Jabal Mohsen and Bab el-Tabbaneh: United in Poverty

A UNDP field survey of the living conditions and mother and child health in Bab el-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli contains shocking figures.

Around 20 percent of men and 91.5 percent of women are unemployed.

The high early school dropout rates, especially for boys, puts the illiteracy rate for young men (15-29 years) at 20 percent, the highest in Lebanon.

The study also shows that 9.3 percent of the population suffers from illnesses that remain untreated due to lack of money or absence of the required specialization or treatment in neighboring dispensaries.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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