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Sat 2 Sep 2006 04:00 AM

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Plea to lift Lebanon’s rebuild embargo now

Solidere blueprint for reconstruction could be extended to war-battered south of country

A Lebanese government embargo on construction could compound the damage done to the country’s economy unless it is lifted soon, according to the president of the Lebanese Economic Organisation.

Wajih Bizri said that further delay in rebuilding the country and getting its construction industry back on track will create more problems for the sector.

The reconstruction effort is currently estimated at US $10 billion (LBP15 trillion). Around 15,000 homes, 78 bridges, 900 businesses, 630 roads, 25 fuel stations and 31 utility plants were destroyed during the 34-day bombardment by Israel, according to figures from the Higher Relief Council.

“There is an embargo on the whole of Lebanon. We hope it will be lifted within the next two weeks — maximum. Companies are preparing themselves for the work that awaits them, but if the embargo lasts for longer, then this will create a lot of problems,” said Bizri.

“They cannot start the rebuild because there’s a lot to be done in terms of what needs to be reconstructed, and whether demolished buildings will be built in the same way as before. There is talk about rebuilding in different ways — and maybe adopting a style similar to what Solidere was doing with Beirut.”

Contractors are facing shortages of labour, and many smaller firms could be forced out of business unless the embargo is lifted soon.

“There’s a lot of construction to be done — whether it’s to the damaged areas or the continuation of the construction boom that had been happening in Lebanon. But contractors have to be ready to face competition as well as be able to regulate the problem of cash flow,” added Bizri.

The Lebanese government is believed to be in talks with Syria about sending Syrian workers to help with the construction process.

Thousands of Syrian workers — the mainstay of Lebanon’s construction industry — fled the country when the attacks began.

“The shortage of labourers is a major problem for contractors, but I guess eventually they will come back — we’ve seen this before and the market eventually regulated itself. The majority will most likely come from Syria.”

It is hoped that an international conference in Sweden this week could raise up to $500 million for the reconstruction effort, while Saudi Arabia has already pledged $500 million in aid with a further $300 million expected to come from Kuwait.

Qatar is funding the reconstruction of the southern town of Bint Jbeil, while the Organisation of the Islamic Conference is expected to rebuild Khiam.

The UAE’s Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Humanitarian and Charitable Foundation, is also finalising an aid package for the country.

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