Thu, Aug 17, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Lebanon counts cost to rebuild

STARTING OVER One researcher estimated it will cost more than US$7 billion to repair infrastructure such as roads and bridges, as well as homes and businesses


A boy covers his face to protect himself from the smoke of a burning building as he looks down the street at several destroyed high-rise apartment buildings in his neighborhood within the Hezbollah security perimeter in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday.


With the tenuous ceasefire still holding, Lebanese government ministers met on Tuesday to begin the laborious process of estimating civilian damage caused by a month of Israeli bombing.

While the fighting continued, officials were unable to visit many of the bomb sites and a total figure is not expected until next week, but it will certainly run to billions of dollars.

The Center for Economic Research in Beirut predicts repair and reconstruction costs will rise above US$7 billion. The biggest cost will be for repairs to roads, bridges ports and airports, recently estimated at US$404 million. More than 94 roads and 70 bridges were bombed by the Israelis.

Other government repair costs include power supplies (US$208 million), telecoms (US$99 million), water (US$74 million) and military installations (US$16 million).

The number of homes destroyed is still unclear, but Hezbollah says more than 15,000 homes have been completely destroyed and many more damaged. Another estimate is that 10,000 homes will need rebuilding or repairing.

According to officials quoted by the Beirut Daily Star, more than 900 small and medium-sized businesses have been destroyed, with damage estimated at US$200 million. This includes more than 300 shops and businesses that have been wiped out in the capital's heavily bombed southern suburbs.

Some larger businesses were also wrecked, including the biggest milk processing factory in the Bekaa valley and a warehouse for Procter & Gamble products. The national airline, MEA, has also been grounded for the duration.

Lebanon's economy had been expected to grow by 5 percent to 6 percent this year, but revised estimates now put the projection at zero to a drop of 3 percent. The Central Bank has spent US$1 billion from its reserves to prop up the Lebanese pound.

With a quarter of the population having fled their homes and the Israelis imposing a blockade, most economic activity has been severely disrupted. Agricultural produce, especially in the south, has been abandoned in the fields or left to rot in storage

Banks are expecting a wave of defaults on business loans. Another unknown quantity is the impact on investor confidence -- it may take some time to restore Lebanon's financial risk profile.

The economic downturn will also cut government revenues, Finance Minister Jihad Azour told journalists recently. That, in turn, will mean less government money available for reconstruction, and the longer reconstruction takes, the longer it will take the economy to recover.

Tourism, which accounts for 15 percent of GDP and is a vital source of foreign currency, had been expected to bring in US$2.5 billion to US$3 billion this year. The war came at the start of the season, when wealthy Gulf Arabs and people of Lebanese descent arrive for the summer.

Lebanon is also facing an environmental crisis, the UN says. Some 10,000 tonnes to 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil leaked on the coast after Israeli bombers hit the Jiyyeh power station south of Beirut. The slick stretches almost 160km along the Mediterranean coastline and has now reached Syria. The environment ministry estimates it will cost US$100 million to clean up.

OPEC's humanitarian arm said yesterday that it would provide US$200,000 to help clean up the spill.

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