Local Contractors for Improved Infrastructure and Job Creation

Since 2017, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Employment Intensive Infrastructure Programme (EIIP) in Lebanon completed a number of impactful infrastructure projects, financed by Germany through the German Development Bank KfW and implemented in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP), the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labour. The aim of the programme is to create job opportunities and improve infrastructure in regions facing economic and social hardship.

The different projects implemented through the EIIP – agricultural roads, water tanks, irrigation networks, markets and sidewalks, etc. – take place in areas where infrastructure challenges are particularly pressing, and the need to create job opportunities is major.      

“There is a long selection process, starting with identifying high priority projects in different regions of Lebanon,” says Eav Kong, Senior Technical International Engineer, working with ILO in Beirut. “We list all of them (the projects), then visit the areas to identify which projects are possible, and then narrow them down to a shorter list.”

In order to ensure good practice and a healthy working environment, the programme also incorporates trainings for contractors hiring workers. “All contractors who want to participate in the EIIP go through a training organized by the ILO on labour-intensive construction methods and principles of decent work as a pre-requisite for the tendering process,” says Kong.

Three prioritized interventions, implemented by trained contractors, had multiple dimension impact from enhanced infrastructure, to job creation for Lebanese, Syrians, women, and disabled persons, each project played a significant role in improving the livelihoods of local residents.

In the North, in the region of Tall Abbas, a road was constructed to facilitate farmer’s access to their lands and ability to transport crops to the main road.

“It was an important project,” says Mohamad Nachabe, a partner in the Nachabe for Engineering and Construction company, one of many local contractors implementing EIIP projects. “Farmers used to face many problems in the winter when trucks could not reach the fields; they were forced to carry their products on their backs.”

In Hammana, Mount Lebanon, the contractor Omar Chebaro led the works to build a water reservoir and filtration system to resolve the problem of contaminated water caused by old pipes and tanks.

“The water was the colour of Coca Cola before, and now people can drink it. I’d say that our project, despite all the challenges, was a great success,” he said.

One of EIIP’s core aims is to rely on local labour, making sure that the projects benefit jobless workers in different parts of the country. In both Hammana and Tall Abbas, Syrian and Lebanese employees worked side by side, and women working in non-traditional roles were included in the work force.

Khalil Soueidan, from the contracting firm Traffic Mall, headed a project in Ghobeiry, south Beirut. Works including street pothole repairs, pavement and parking construction, concrete barriers installations, and more improved road safety for drivers and pedestrians alike.

Soueidan employed both Syrians and Lebanese, and some went on to do work with him in other construction projects later. “We employed brothers from Syria. They have great experience in construction. We had good workers who knew how to do all the work already,” Soueidan said.

The impact of the projects on job creation at the local level is greatly significant. Chebaro, for example, during the construction of the water reservoir and filtration system in Hammana, employed around 90 people. “Almost 80 percent of the works had to be manual labour, and we did not use machines,” he said. “To be honest, at times it was challenging to manage such a large work force. But int he end, people were very happy.”

Tomas Stenström, the project Chief Technical Advisor of EIIP in Lebanon, commented on the vital component of the programme’s approach: “We always want to do projects that have a great impact on job creation while at the same time improving and maintaining priority infrastructure, using local labour and resources where possible.”

EIIP, which was initiated over four decades ago in Africa, is relatively new to the Middle East. “It is a viable option for Lebanon. As a result of the refugee crisis, compounded by the financial crisis, there are many vulnerable communities and many people in need of work,” Stenström says.

A number of other EIIP projects are under way in different locations across the country. More agricultural roads will be constructed, and further improvement of sidewalks and streets will take place as well as other infrastructure interventions.

Chebaro, and other contractors who worked with the EIIP, will take on more of the projects coming up. “It was a new experience for us,” he said. “The main difference[between the EIIP and other projects] is that we focused on the implementation process. It is usually all about the end result, but this was equally about the social impact.”