Of hashish and potatoes – and illiteracy

Mitch Prothero in the National, here: ‘Mr Jafaar repeats a refrain commonly heard during more than a dozen meetings The National held with current and former drug traffickers in the Beqaa Valley and Beirut. “I assure you that government officials bring in the cocaine and take out the hashish. The growers are the poorest people involved.” With a series of successful legitimate businesses, Mr Jafaar said he no longer needs to grow and sell drugs. However, the obstacles to making an honest living for farmers in north Beqaa, he said, are insurmountable for most and so drugs remained the only viable option.“I am a potato grower, but I only grow them because I can afford to grow them. It takes almost a million dollars to prepare 1,000 dunums [one dunum is equal to about 1,000 square metres] of land for potatoes. It costs less than US$1,000 (Dh3,670) to prepare the same amount for hashish and the dealers will lend the farmer the money. What does the government do but steal the aid money meant for farmers and allow Syrian farmers to enter our market with cheaper products. It’s impossible,” Mr Jafaar said.’

Illustrating the claim of the government structurally neglecting the Beqaa valley (as well as the south of Lebanon) for as long as anyone cares to remember is the UN’s newly released national human development report for Lebanon, which states among other things that: adult literacy (measured among those above 15 years of age) is highest in Beirut, where only 6.1 percent of the population cannot read by adulthood. In Nabetieh, by contrast, the illiteracy rate reaches 16.7 percent. The rate rises even higher in the Bekaa, reaching 16.8 percent.’ (This links to he Daily Star – for the full NHDR see  – well, nowhere really, because although the UNDP has taken the time and effort to report on the festive launch of the report in the prestigious Phoenicia hotel in Beirut  – in the presence of many of the politicians who are responsible for this systematic neglect of half of the country in the first place – it apparently hasn’t taken the time and effort yet to actually put the report itself online… which says a whole lot about the UN and its priorities).

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