The Bekaa Valley is a picturesque, fertile valley in east Lebanon. Situated about 30 kilometers east of the capital Beirut, it is Lebanon's most important farming region. The Bekaa is also home to many Syrian refugees who have fled their homes, crossed the border with Lebanon and settled in the country. Estimates put the number of registered Syrian refugees in the Bekaa at about 370,000 people.
In total, the tiny country of Lebanon is home to more than 1 million Syrian refugees, meaning one in every four people living in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. This has had a massive impact on the services and support that are available to both Lebanese people and the host communities, as well as to the Syrian refugees themselves. The World Bank said up to 170,000 Lebanese could be pushed into poverty by the Syrian crisis.
That’s why we are partnering with local employers through this massive transition to help them stay profitable and help keep the local economy stable, as well as increase employment opportunities for Syrians and Lebanese.
On a hot, dry and dusty day in the Bekaa, we meet 31-year-old Morshed. He is a Lebanese tomato farmer and lives and works in the valley. He has been a farmer for 14 years and his family has always worked in agriculture. Morshed tells us that last year there was so little rain he had almost no crops, but this year, with the help of Mercy Corps who provided the technical expertise and capital to help Morshed plant a new breed of tomato that sells for twice the price and is more suited to his soil. With the profits, he has been able to expand and increase his staff. Learn more about our economic development projects.
Initially, Morshed said, he was hesitant to plant a different breed of tomato, “I was afraid in the beginning, but now I am very happy with the market potential [of his new crops]”. Morshed said Mercy Corps also has helped him form partnerships with the local government and with the private sector to better prepare his crops for market. He talks about the new disease prevention techniques that our team has taught him to reduce the amount of his crops that have to be destroyed.
Morshed also employs 10 Syrian people to help work on the farm, both men and women. The farm is important to Morshed, the community and the region – his village relies on agriculture.
Mohammed Ataya who fled Syria two years ago for Lebanon and has 10 family members to feed. He is participating in a Mercy Corps cash for work program in the Bekaa Valley where he earns $15 a day to help clear irrigation systems of garbage. Photo: Amy Fairbairn/Mercy Corps
Later that day, we meet Mohammed Ataya who talks to us from the side of the road where he is clearing trash. He too is being helped by a Mercy Corps program. Mohammed is just one of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled to this region, living in informal settlements with no services or infrastructure, such as water supply or garbage collection.
Mohammed and his Syrian and Lebanese colleagues pick trash from thousands of miles of gutters which help the farmers because otherwise it blocks the channels for irrigation. This cash for work program is implemented in partnership with the local municipality and puts cash, $15 a day, into the hands of vulnerable Syrians and Lebanese who need it most. Mohammed tells us that he has 10 family members to feed and has been out of work for most of the time since he fled Syria two years ago.
Across Lebanon, Mercy Corps is addressing the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities. With no end in sight to the Syrian conflict, Mercy Corps programs help to protect livelihoods and guard against economic instability.