WTO: Lebanon faces $2.5bn in damages as military attacks degrade farmland, says minister

Agriculture and tourism among the hardest-hit sectors due to the conflict raging in the country's south, Economy Minister says

A building damaged in an Israeli drone strike in the town of Kfar Roummane, in southern Lebanon. EPA
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Crisis-riddled Lebanon is facing about $2.5 billion in damages to its agricultural sector due to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah along the country's southern border, and is seeking international funding to “rehabilitate” the farmlands, its Economy Minister said.

An assessment of agriculture sector losses showed that about land valued at $2.5 billion has suffered damage, including trees and the produce that was ready to be harvested and exported, Amin Salam told reporters on the sidelines of the World Trade Organisation's 13th Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

“On top of that, the weapons that are being used in the south of Lebanon are damaging the soil,” he said.

“To rehabilitate those lands, it will take years and it will take a lot of money, so we will definitely be seeking the international community to aid us in rehabilitating all the areas in Lebanon and the Beka'a [valley in Lebanon] that became toxic due to the specific weapons they're using.”

WTO countries' ministers looks to future in Abu Dhabi

WTO countries' ministers looks to future in Abu Dhabi

Militant group Hezbollah has exchanged fire with Israel along the border almost daily since the Gaza war began on October 7, in support of its ally Hamas.

The war has caused extensive damage to buildings, infrastructure and private property, adding up to huge losses for Lebanon's already struggling economy.

Before the Israel-Gaza war, which has spilled over into southern parts of Lebanon, the country had set an economic growth target of 2 per cent to 4 per cent for 2024.

However, it is now expected to fall short of as the cross-border fighting keeps tourists away during the winter season, as well as hits agricultural exports and heightens uncertainty, Mr Salam said.

“Our tourism is affected, our agriculture is affected and the entire ecosystem of the Lebanese diaspora coming back to Lebanon was a major player that usually pumps fresh cash dollars, which is part of the problem now in Lebanon, is all in jeopardy,” he said.

“We're waiting to see how things will turn out or if there will be a ceasefire or not. And if the ceasefire happens, will it include Lebanon or not?

“So, Lebanon is in a state of a lot of questions now. But definitely things are declining in a negative way.”

There have been fewer international tourists in Lebanon this winter, following a strong performance in the summer before the war, with some countries such as the US and the UK advising their citizens to reconsider their plans to travel to Lebanon.

In the last summer season, tourists and Lebanese diaspora injected $5 billion to $7 billion of cash into the country's economy, Mr Salam said.

“But all that was entirely affected, all that now is up in the air. So, we don't know really if, in the next few months, we can look at the summer season that [it] will pump back billions of dollars into economy,” he said.

“We don't know if the Lebanese diaspora, that had hopes they will come back to their villages and to their cities and do small investments and create jobs, if that will happen or now.”

The minister did not provide a revised forecast for gross domestic product growth but said the economy would “be stuck at a very negative place”.

Updated: February 27, 2024, 6:29 AM