INTRODUCTION In Lebanon, the business community is getting down to work again as part of vigorous reconstruction effort that has followed the 19-month civil was.
INTRODUCTION In Lebanon, the business community is getting down to work again as part of vigorous reconstruction effort that has followed the 19-month civil was. Already banks are open and many of the international companies which fled during the war are returning.
SYNOPSIS: The second anniversary of the attack on a bus in Beirut which triggered the civil war falls on Wednesday (13 April.) Fighting ended in the capital last November--and since then the task of re-building the shattered city has been gathering momentum. Telecommunications are an important aspect of a modern economy and the restoration of Beirut's telephone lines and cables is a priority project. Direct material losses suffered in Lebanon during the war are estimated at between seven and eight billion Lebanese pounds (1.4 and 1.6 billion sterling).
Another problem is to provide housing for the thousands of people whose homes were destroyed during the hostilities. Building work is underway in many areas of the city, but finance is not always readily available, as potential investors are said to be wary of committing themselves too deeply until they are sure the fighting is really over.
But the will to rebuild a civilised society is strong and already some housing projects started since the fighting stopped are nearly ready for occupation. The commercial district and port of Beirut were reduced to rubble. To get the economy moving again it is vital that they should be rebuilt as soon as possible.
But battle-weary Lebanon is facing a new aggressor -- runaway inflation. Although many shops and supermarkets in Beirut are now well-stocked with consumer goods from all over the world, prices have rocketed. A cost-of-living survey conducted by a major western embassy in Beirut estimated that the inflation rate in Lebanon during 1976 was around 85 per cent. Services too have become vastly more expensive -- public transport rates have tripled, taxi rates quintupled, school fees have doubled and rents, doctors and dentists fees have also shot up.
Ships that are once again using Beirut's devastated port bring in not only the necessities of life but the luxuries too. This supermarket is stocked with an international selection of alcoholic drinks -- but most of them are by now priced almost beyond the means of an average working man. However on the survival front the United States has given a five million dollar reconstruction grant, which will be used to provide warehouse space and equipment in the port area.
The souks, outdoor markets, were once one of the most attractive features of Beirut and little by little they are opening up again -- adding both atmosphere and a source of cheaper commodities to the city's inhabitants. But as all this goes on, the troops are still very much in evidence -- a reminder of a grim and not-too-distant past.