Tripoli: Lebanon’s gate to rebuilding Syria awaits development

With its ability to provide the required logistics support, city has a role to play in the future of Syria

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Northern Lebanon hosts around 36 per cent of the poor people in Lebanon, a new World Bank report said. Ninety per cent of the workers in Tripoli, the country’s second largest city, are not registered formally, and they constitute 38 per cent of the work force in the city.

The report stressed that the economy of northern Lebanon is weak and the main activities are concentrated in agriculture and real estate while industry and trade are more prevalent in Tripoli.

But political and social instability play a vital role in outflow of investments. For example, Mount Lebanon dominates 60 per cent of real estate investments in Lebanon while the North attracts only 6 per cent, with foreign investments lagging.

The report mentions projects worth $229 million in the northern province which target 33 per cent of the infrastructure that will vitalize the productivity of businesses.

The World Bank said most investors in the private sector tend to launch small businesses. The exceptions were six companies employing large numbers of people, such as Hallab sweets which has more than 500 employees.

Some private sector companies employ 200 workers in sectors such as tourism and printing, while 54 per cent of employees work in companies which do not employ more than 9 workers, and 41 per cent are employed in businesses, which have a maximum of 5 employees.

Only 15 per cent of the businesses in the north are registered legally compared to 37 per cent in Mount Lebanon and 50 per cent in Beirut.

The growth achieved in Tripoli’s economy has not reflected in new jobs, according to the report.

One of the main challenges there is the continued inflow of Syrian refugees who now account for around 32 per cent of Tripoli’s inhabitants, and that increases social pressures as well as exacerbates economic fragility.

Tripoli has a role to play in the future of Syria in the postwar era with its ability to provide all the required logistics support. The city can also play a vital role in creating a link between large-sized companies in Beirut which are willing to enter Syria, especially that these companies have accumulated experience after the end of the Lebanese civil war, the report mentioned.

Ghassan Husami, secretary General of Traders Association in Tripoli, said that the city has become a need for all parties who are looking at the reconstruction era in Syria.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Husami said: “Tripoli is the gate not only because it is 40 kms away from the borders but also because the Lebanese government decided to relaunch the train services between the city and the Syrian side with $50 million in investments.”

Husami explained that three World Bank delegates visited Tripoli lately to stress on the importance of preparing the city to be a suitable platform for every side willing to enter the Syrian reconstruction phase. “We have a well-equipped port which can be a real gateway with some development. It is 15.5 meter deep which enables it to host large ships and it has got new equipment to lift large-size containers.”

But Husami stressed the city can do even better if well developed. “Since 2014, local fighting among domestic sectarian factions stopped and we were promised that security will be accompanied by investments and development. In fact, we haven’t seen anything but increase in unemployment, with the fighters themselves have become unemployed.”

The World Bank report describes a road map about what can be done to overcome the challenges which hinder the economy in north Lebanon, and stressed the importance of creating 20,000 jobs during the next five years through development, mainly in the poorer areas, especially those where Syrian refugees exist.

The Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) said in a research issued in February 2016 that 11 per cent of Lebanese work force is located in the north, 13 per cent of which are engaged in agricultural activities, 30 per cent in services and 23 per cent in trade.

IDAL believes Tripoli is a potential hub to serve a market of 200 million people in the neighboring countries.

Located only 30 km away from the Syrian border, the port of Tripoli has one dock and 8 berths. In 2015, it accounted to 5.6 per cent of Lebanon’s imports at 157000 tons and 8.7 per cent of total exports at 165300 tons.

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