Lebanon's Baalbek-Hermel awaits development plan
The Lebanese government is formulating a development plan for Baalbek-Hermel, with local input, in the aftermath of severe flooding that overwhelmed the governorate's dilapidated infrastructure and caused extensive damage.
The largely agricultural towns of Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa were particularly hard hit by the mid-June flood, which inflicted severe damage on residential and commercial properties and inundated farmlands.
One woman was killed when the floodwaters swept through her home, and vehicles in the path of the water sustained flood damage.
Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa, like other Baalbek-Hermel towns, are renowned for their agriculture and as tourist destinations, but persistent neglect has curtailed their development, town leaders told Al-Mashareq.
The government has been working with local officials to draft a plan that will address the area's economic, social and tourism development and seek to prevent future flooding.
According to Ras Baalbek municipal chief Dureid Rahhal, the town "has been ignored for decades, and the flood exposed the extent of our need for projects implemented by the government through the concerned ministries".
"The flood exposed how dilapidated the water, sanitation and electricity infrastructure has become," he told Al-Mashareq.
The course of floods must be altered, retaining walls constructed, roads rehabilitated and a dam built to collect water for irrigation, he said.
"We look forward, after what we went through, to a development plan and a package of projects for the construction of new water, sewage and electricity infrastructure and a dam on Umm Khalid hill," he said.
The dam would collect water for irrigation and help to prevent floods, he said.
These projects would "put us on course for the development of the region, whose agricultural lands also were severely devastated by the floods", he added.
A plan needs to be developed with consulting firms that takes into account the town’s needs, al-Qaa mayor Bashir Matar told Al-Mashareq.
"The plan should provide for the removal of infringing construction and infringements on water courses, identification of the location of bridges, the construction of water reservoirs and industrial lakes to collect water, and construction of new water channels," he said.
"Ours is an agricultural town par excellence," he added. "We must strengthen the agricultural sector and support the farmers."
Matar also called for rehabilitating the international highway that connects Baalbek with al-Qaa and extends to the Syrian border at al-Jousiya crossing, "because rehabilitating the road would bring tourists to the area".
Addressing 'persistent neglect'
The floods "exposed the persistent neglect of the region and the need for a development plan that provides for the rehabilitation of infrastructure and vital projects," Baalbek-Hermel governor Bashir Khodr told Al-Mashareq.
"We recently submitted a number of proposals for projects to the Council of Ministers," he said.
Some revenue pledged at the Cedar Conference will be allocated to disadvantaged areas, such as Baalbek-Hermel and the Akkar region, he said.
The projects submitted by the local administration encompass all villages and towns, he said, and "centre on the rehabilitation of infrastructure including the water, sewage and irrigation networks, the construction of others where needed and the construction of water treatment plants".
The plan includes the completion of construction of the Assi river dam, he said.
The plan received the preliminary approval of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who asked that feasibility studies be conducted, he added.
Khodr said he is seeking, along with UN and donor countries, to "secure funding for the construction of reservoirs and dams to collect rainwater".
"The plan is a road map for the development of towns and their long-term prosperity -- agriculturally, economically and tourism-wise," he said.