Construction Jihad declared

You don’t see its name on too many tender lists, but right now it is the biggest contractor in the country. Angela Giuffrida reports on the work of ‘Construction Jihad’.

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By  Angela Giuffrida Published  September 2, 2006

While politicians and donors deliberate over the funding required for the massive reconstruction process in Lebanon, one group of construction workers is already busy at work rebuilding homes across the country. Construction Jihad is the civil engineering subsidiary of Hizbollah, the political party at the centre of the conflict. Within one day of the ceasefire, the organisation had enlisted the support of 1,700 volunteers to measure the extent of the damage caused by Israel’s bombardment of southern Lebanon and the Beirut suburbs. Ditch digging, rubble clearing and temporary bridge construction is all in a days’ work for the group, which counts engineers, electricians, plumbers and architects among its ranks. Hizbollah was also quick to hand over up to US $15,000 (LBP22.6 million) to families whose homes were destroyed during the conflict to cover the cost of renting before construction proper gets underway. Construction Jihad has also helped to restore water and electricity in towns such as Bint Jbeil, the party’s main stronghold in southern Lebanon. Despite raised eyebrows from the US about Hizbollah’s involvement in the reconstruction effort, others see the work Construction Jihad is doing as being complimentary to the Lebanese government’s ultimate goal, particularly while an embargo on construction is still in place. “It’s definitely a good thing. The destruction to the country is incredible. They have had past experience in doing this, and they were very good at it,” says Wajih Bizri, president of the Lebanese Economic Organisation. “They’re backing those whose homes were completely or partially destroyed for free — they’re not doing it for profit.” Another company making headway in rebuilding Lebanon is Genico Company for Construction and Contracting Works, which is headed up by Shafik Hariri, the brother of the late former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The contractor is investing $6 million in reconstructing nine bridges destroyed in the southern port city of Sidon. Along with the help of the Lebanese Army, Genico has already built three temporary bridges in Qassimieh, Khardaleh and Damour. It also plans to build temporary roads to ease the flow of traffic to and from the south. Elsewhere, contractors are preparing themselves for the onslaught of work that will arise from the reconstruction process, as well as looking at ways of sourcing workers, many of whom fled the country at the start of the conflict. The Lebanese government is thought to have called on the help of Syria to send Syrian construction workers to Lebanon. “There’s a lot of construction to be done — whether it’s to the damaged areas or to continue the construction boom that was going on in Lebanon before,” adds Bizri. “The shortage of labourers is a major problem, but I guess they will eventually come back — we’ve seen this happen before and the market regulated itself. The majority come from Syria.” Along with assessing the extent of the work that needs to be carried out, the Lebanese government is also looking at the possibility of redevelopment projects modelled on the previous work of Solidere — the developer founded by the late Rafik Hariri. “They’re talking about adopting a style similar to the way Solidere was building in Beirut, as well as developing entire areas in a new way,” says Bizri. In terms of building materials, while the embargo is still in place it’s difficult to put a figure on which products could be in short supply, and whether prices will rise, says Robert Khalife, president of construction material supplier, Fouad Khalife & Cie. “There are big companies in Lebanon that produce cement and steel, so a lot of this is currently available. Producers are also ready to start producing again for the market,” he says. “For other materials, such as plumbing, sanitary products and tiles, we’ll need around six months from when the reconstruction starts to ensure these are available in the market. “In terms of prices, these haven’t been affected yet as we have no demands for building material right now because of the embargo.” Other suppliers estimate that there is enough stock available to meet demand for the next two months. But some businesses suffered financial loss from the amount of material detained and diverted from the ports. “When the blockage was imposed, we had to pay storage fees pertaining to imported material, which remained at loading ports, as well as fees for consignments that were diverted,” says Salem Tannous, president of building materials supplier, Société Libanaise pour les Metaux. “Prices haven’t changed, but nobody is buying because reconstruction hasn’t started yet,” he added. Teaming up in a non-profit rebuild effort Contractors in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are teaming up to assist the reconstruction process in Lebanon. The Saudi Chamber of Commerce and Industry plans to host a meeting of businessmen with the aim of helping the rebuilding effort. Meanwhile Kuwait-based Al Kharafi Group also plans to form a non-profit organisation by the middle of September to target the reconstruction of Beirut’s southern suburbs. Hussain Asmi, marketing manager, Al Kharafi, said: “Everything should be finalised with the non profit organisation coming into effect by the middle of the month. Most of the companies are Arab with a few proposals from international firms. “No one is going to make a profit off this and each company that joins in will have to help in some way in the reconstruction of south Beirut. A board of directors will be in place very soon.” With donations being the main source of capital, businessmen have claimed that a 10% rise in the prices of raw materials including concrete, iron and cement could hamper reconstruction efforts.

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