Lebanon – Reviving Markets and Stimulating the Local Economy

10 Mar 2014

imageThe Al-Marj market in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Photo: Dalia Khamissy/UNDP

“We used to sit on rocks and walk in mud during winter season. But now the road is paved, so the market is accessible and clean.” For Amira Bou Zeid, a Lebanese citizen from the country’s Bekaa Valley region, the renovation of her local market through a  UNDP project funded by UNHCR, has made a real difference. “The changes made by UNDP have been very useful”, she says.

The Al-Marj market has been a trading post for produce and other goods for decades, but had fallen into disrepair. Customers like Amira worried about a lack of hygiene caused by mud during the rainy season. The market lacked electricity and proper stalls for traders to display their products. “The land was full of mud and pebbles”, recalls a vendor, Najah Abu Taha. “Customers would not come when it rained. There was no sewage system.”

Problems with the market’s infrastructure are just one example of the vulnerability facing this poor community that sits close to Lebanon’s border with Syria. And as the conflict there enters its fourth year with no clear sign of abating, places like the Bekaa Valley are continuing to bear the brunt of the ongoing migration of Syrians that has already seen more than 2.5 million refugees flee into Jordan, Lebanon Iraq and other neighboring countries

The project to renovate the Al-Marj market was undertaken as part of UNDP’s efforts to respond to the impacts of the Syria crisis in the region, with a focus on helping communities cope with immediate needs, recover from setbacks, and sustain recovery through development gains over the long term. Renovation of the market benefited the host community as well as stimulating the local economy for Lebanese and Syrians alike.

Today, buyers and sellers throng to the bustling site. The mud has been replaced with asphalt, and there is a reliable electricity supply. Vendors now provide goods to communities from all over the Bekaa Valley.

One Lebanese farmer, Najah Abou Taha, says the renovation has made “remarkable positive changes in the business”. Abed al Rehman Alsayed Issa, a 26-year-old Syrian living in Lebanon, agrees. “The renovation made by UNDP to this market encouraged people from all over the villages to visit it, which increased our income. We are 15 members in this family and we all live out of this business.”

Luca Renda, UNDP Lebanon Country Director, while acknowledging the difficulties faced by host communities like those in the Bekaa Valley, recognizes the generosity of the Lebanese. “The dimension of the crisis is extraordinary, but equally exceptional is the solidarity shown by the Lebanese people in keeping their borders open, hosting such a large number of refugees within their communities”, he says. “I think it really sets an example for the rest of the world.”

With refugees continuing to stream out of Syria at a rate of more than 120,000 each month, UNDP, alongside sister UN agencies and partners, is seeking US$166.8 million to support neighbouring countries hosting refugees.

Amidst the crisis, the renovation of the Al-Marj market offers a sign of hope. “Thank you UNDP for offering this project. The market place now is a model one.  I have more customers and am making more profit”, says Najah.