Border clashes severely impacting south Lebanon's economy, environment, UN says

Border clashes severely impacting south Lebanon's economy, environment, UN says
Southern Lebanon is facing major economic losses and environmental ruin from the border clashes between Hezbollah and Israel, which has used white phosphorus.
3 min read
20 December, 2023
There are fears the border fighting could escalate into a bigger war between Hezbollah and Israel [Getty]

Lebanon is facing major economic losses and environmental pollution as a result of ongoing cross-border clashes between Hezbollah and Israel, the United Nations has said.

A report issued on Monday said that "significant losses have been reported in the agricultural sector in the conflict-affected area, which is a basic source of livelihood in the border region of southern Lebanon".

It also said that there was "damage to land, chemical contamination, and contamination from explosive residues leading to a loss of soil fertility".

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group has fought battles with Israel since early October, when Israel launched an indiscriminate war on Gaza in response to a deadly surprise attack by Hamas. It is the worst violence on the Lebanese-Israeli frontier since the month-long summer war of 2006.

More than 130 people have been killed by Israeli strikes in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also a Lebanese soldier and 18 civilians, including three journalists. There have been confirmed casualties in Israel too.

Hezbollah has said it was supporting Hamas in Gaza by piling pressure on Israel from the north. The Iran-backed group and Palestinian factions have fired missiles and drones from southern Lebanon, while Israel has launched artillery bombardments and airstrikes.

The 18-page report said that around 91 villages in the governorates of Nabatiyeh and South Lebanon had been subject to nearly 1,800 attacks, some using flare and incendiary bombs and phosphorous shells.

The UN said the economic sectors most hurt were tourism, services, and agriculture, which provide jobs for a large percentage of the local population.

The UN said the use of white phosphorus – a weapon used by Israel several times despite being banned under the Geneva Convention of 1980 – leads to increased levels of pollution in crops and water sources, posing a threat to livestock and the health of humans.

It added that main crops such as olives, carobs, grains, and winter crops were all "severely damaged," with at least 47,000 olive trees reportedly burned, largely due to the use of phosphorus.

"The [border] conflict has caused significant losses in livestock, poultry and aquaculture, and the violence has also restricted the access of local fishermen to fishing areas."

Live Story

Lebanon has already reeled under its worst ever financial crisis since 2019. It has s seen its currency collapse, foreign currency reserves dwindle, and peoples' bank savings frozen.

The economic meltdown has driven hundreds of thousands of people out of the country and plunged tens of thousands of people into unemployment and poverty. The Covid pandemic, the massive Beirut Port explosion in August 2020, and the lifting of subsidies exacerbated the crisis.

But despite the grim outlook, Lebanon witnessed one of its best summer seasons this year with large numbers of expatriates and tourists visiting the small eastern Mediterranean country. The private sector has largely bounced back, many households rely on solar energy, and private initiatives are supporting local communities and smaller businesses.

The outbreak of violence in southern Lebanon cast doubt on visitor numbers for the Christmas holidays as bookings were cancelled. But airlines have resumed trips to Beirut, as Lebanon’s national carrier, Middle East Airlines, said it was adding flights, giving hopes of a breakthrough for the winter season despite uncertainty with Israel.