Habitat for Humanity in Lebanon
“The disaster is beyond imagination. For a while you think an earthquake has struck our country. Tens of thousands are homeless, entire villages are wiped out, and the outcome is a shattered country. I urge everyone to be part of Habitat for Humanity’s efforts to restore peace and reconciliation; let us join hands, efforts and resources to pass on a cool cup of water for a thirsty country.”
The recent conflicts in Lebanon destroyed vital infrastructure and leveled buildings throughout the country, especially in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon. Estimates vary on the number of homes damaged and destroyed. U.S. aid officials estimate at least 250,000 people remain displaced in Lebanon. The United Nations estimates about 15,000 homes were completely destroyed and several thousand more were damaged.
As with the past work of Habitat for Humanity in Lebanon, the goal in responding to the recent crisis is twofold. The first aim is to provide the means for families whose houses were damaged or destroyed to get back to their homes and villages and on with their lives. The second goal is to solidify peace and civil society by providing opportunities for families and communities of different faiths and viewpoints to come together for a common purpose of reconstruction. Habitat for Humanity believes this process of peace-building and reconciliation is as important for the future of Lebanon as the reconstruction of buildings and homes.
To accomplish these goals, Habitat for Humanity is building upon its already successful model in Lebanon by working through local nongovernmental and community-based organizations to ensure community involvement and participation. Through these partnerships HFH has established Habitat Resource Centers (HRCs) that offer technical assistance and training for families to repair homes, volunteer mobilization to assist with reconstruction, and vouchers that enable qualified families to purchase locally available materials to construct core house structures (in the case of totally destroyed units) or repair damaged homes. The core house is a permanent structure of one room, a kitchen and a toilet, built on the site of the destroyed home, which allows families to move back to their communities immediately and expand the home to their specifications over time.
The HRC model, used successfully in HFH’s tsunami response in Asia, is a highly adaptable system that allows Habitat to offer a wide range of services to the affected populations while setting the stage for long-term sustainability. It incorporates the HFH principals of self help and community mobilization while at the same time meeting the demand for materials and immediate assistance in the post-disaster environment.
The first phase of the HFH response is focused on 15 communities in some of the hardest hit and marginalized communities in the four provinces of Marjeyoun, Sur, Nabatyeh and Bint Jbail. Habitat will focus on poor and marginalized communities near the southern border that have been identified as likely to fall through the cracks of the larger reconstruction efforts.
About Habitat for Humanity Lebanon
Habitat for Humanity Lebanon is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization founded in 2001 that demonstrates the love of Jesus Christ without discrimination based on religion, race or ethnic origin and welcomes people of all faiths and walks of life to work together with families in need.
Working in partnership with volunteers, churches, mosques, organizations and the new homeowner families, our goal is to build simple, decent, healthy, affordable houses for Lebanese families in need and to put shelter on the hearts and minds of people everywhere so that poverty housing becomes unacceptable.
From its inception, Habitat for Humanity Lebanon, in collaboration with the Centre for Dialogue and Development, has rehabilitated or reconstructed more than 265 houses in more than 40 mixed communities in South Lebanon, sheltering more than 1,300 displaced Lebanese in need.
The housing needs in Lebanon
Decades of civil war and occupation have left one third of Lebanon’s population displaced — nearly 1 million people. Thousands of the displaced live illegally in old business or industrial centers, in condemned buildings threatening to collapse, in demolished buildings along the war’s green line, or in housing units that are not appropriate for their families’ needs. Living conditions are often inhumane, without access to proper sanitation, clean water or electricity. Families are under more stress and risk of social and psychological problems, such as substance abuse and disintegration of family relations, without access to employment or wages that they could use to improve their situation.
The Lebanese government recognized the importance of the right and ability of displaced families to return to their homes, creating the Ministry of the Displaced and the Central Displacement Fund in 1992. However, due to social and political limitations, the government failed to address issues of corruption, favoritism and discrimination in the program. Consequently, there has been little improvement over the last 10 years. Displacement continues to be a national problem, one that is strongly linked to and exacerbated by marginalization of the poor. Simple, healthy and affordable housing is extremely limited or even unavailable. The problem is much greater than a lack of structures — the right of return for displaced families is a national symbol of the return to life of the state of Lebanon, its communities and people.
South Lebanon, the site of the first Habitat project in Lebanon, is considered one of the most marginalized areas within the country. Historically, South Lebanon was a symbol of coexistence and diversity. Its residents lived together in peace despite their religious, ethnic and cultural differences. During the civil war and as a result of resistance actions, and economic, social and health deprivation, a large number of families were forced to leave their homes in search of shelter, security and employment. Many of the displaced moved to Beirut and other large cities, creating ghettos of poverty. With the end of the civil war, families are slowly returning to their communities only to find that there are not enough safe, secure houses. At the same time, those remaining in urban areas continue to live in poverty and substandard housing.
By working with low-income families, using the principles of dialogue, participation, action, accountability and transparency, HFH Lebanon has played an important role in the renewal of the concept of development within a country that has spent the last 10 years of its post-conflict reconstruction focusing primarily on economic growth. This participatory approach to development is rooted in the ideas of empowerment and change.