Rains compound side-effects of conflict

November 6th, 2006 | Posted in Resistance, War and Terror


  YAHMOUR – Daily Star: The tiny Southern village of Yahmour is situated between Nabatiyeh and Arnoun. Strewn around the village, which is home to some 450 families, are seemingly endless olive groves and tobacco fields. During the 34-day war in Lebanon this summer, Israeli air strikes hit Yahmour particularly hard. Less than half of the houses are still standing, many of them only partially so.

Now, with the early onset of the rainy season, tempestuous weather is forcing villagers to endure further hardships.

In a two-floor house adorned with arches sits Ghazi Olaik, an olive and tobacco farmer from Yahmour. As the rains beat against his windows, he describes how the season’s constant floods add insult to the injury he is already suffering.

“Everything has been affected by the weather – our land, our produce, our houses and our way of living,” he says, moving a tiny electric heater to the center of the room in which he sits. “Already our livelihoods were drastically affected because of the war. Now, it has just gotten a little worse.”

Olaik says half of the village’s agricultural output was damaged by the war – either directly hit or left to rot when the farmers were forced to flee their lands, leaving the fields without irrigation and care during the summer weeks crucial to the harvest.

Once those farmers returned, before they could venture out to their fields they had to wait until the Lebanese Army left and de-mining experts with the United Nations finished clearing cluster bombs from the land.

“Even after the army and the UN left, we were still afraid to go to our fields,” Olaik explains. “Cluster bombs still lurk on the ground, and we don’t want to be the next casualty. That already happened to a friend of mine who went to his fields,” he adds. “He stepped on a cluster bomb and now he is in a coma. I don’t want that happening to me.”

Heavy rains have been added to an already long and unexpected list of reasons for this year’s poor olive and tobacco season.

“The last couple of weeks have caused severe damage to both our olives and tobacco, especially considering we already had a rainy season earlier on this year,” he says.

The problems don’t stop there, either.

Olaik points to the ceiling of the living room and says: “Before the war we were doing some construction work on the second floor of the house. We had to stop during the war because the bombs caused cracks to appear, and now we’ve had to close off the entire second floor and move everything to the ground floor because water is leaking continually through those cracks, making them bigger.”

In Youhma, this is a frustratingly common problem.

“Many of my neighbors have been forced to close rooms and move everything into other rooms because of the water leaking through the cracks,” he says, gesturing toward other, partially destroyed houses down the road.
“Government officials did come down to make checks on the cracks,” he says, “but since then no one has been back to do anything about it.”

Olaik has the air of someone who has endured hardship before. The recent war and the current downpours are only the latest in a life-long accumulation of experiences.

“To be honest, there is no one to blame for this weather. This is in the hands of God,” he says with a shrug. “We’ve been having problems before the rain came, and we will continue to have problems afterwards. My only fear at the moment is dealing with the cold. If it continues like this, and we keep getting the long power cuts, then this winter we are going to freeze in our houses.”

The road out of Yahmour winds through the hills and countryside further into the South toward the towns of Khiam and Marjayoun.

Sitting on the side of the road, selling olives out of the trunk of his car, is another olive farmer from the region.

He tells a different story from Olaik. He actually thanks the skies for the current weather.

“The rainstorms have been a godsend for some of us farmers, as they have produced much healthier olives,” he says smiling, not willing to give his name. “Yes, there is the fear of cluster bombs each time we go picking. But the weather at the moment is the least of our concerns.”

Tops on the list of his concerns is his livelihood. The farmer says he is forced to sell his olives at cut-rate prices because the government is refusing to support the olive market at the moment.

Continuing down the road one reaches Khiam. Previously a town bustling with tourists visiting the infamous Israeli-run detention center there, it now resembles a ghost town. There are no cars on the road, no shops are open, no one is walking down the street, the houses look deserted and wreckage from the war still lies in random piles along either side of the street.

Eventually, a lone taxi emerges, driven by 54-year-old Ghareb Abdullah. As he navigates around the potholes and dents in the pavement, he explains that the rain has caused further damage to already destroyed roads.

“The worst thing about this weather is that the water fills up in the potholes and crevices in the road, which means that the debris around the roads, especially from the destroyed buildings, is carried by the water to the roads, making the drive on the road a lot harder to maneuver.”

This is palpably clear throughout the hardest-hit areas of South Lebanon. The roads here are peppered with errant stones and rubbish that has been washed down from roadside heaps by the force of the rain. The unevenness of the pavement already creates pools and deep puddles, but the situation has worsened with the addition of postwar debris.

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