An increase in cross-border shelling and rocket fire since 7 October has triggered blazes in a key agricultural area of Lebanon that have run wild through olive groves and nearby farming communities.
More than 86,000 people, including about 31,000 children, have been displaced from villages and towns in southern Lebanon as a result, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Many families are leaving their homes with only that they can carry, and many are experiencing displacement for a second time, including Lebanese women and children and refugee populations who were living in informal tented settlements in the south of the country.
The olive sector in Lebanon involves more than 110,000 farmers with 12 million trees covering almost one-quarter of the country’s agricultural land. Olive harvesting is a main source of income for many villagers with live output accounting for 7% of agricultural GDP in Lebanon, according to the UN. Fires have also affected citrus and banana farms and pastoral land.
Rami*, 14, was displaced with his family and is staying at a centre for internally displaced people supported by Save the Children. He said:
“I was getting fuel for our house when I heard the Israeli airstrikes. I ran home and only managed to get my father’s medication. He has cancer and it was the only thing I was able to get before we had to flee, at night, to a safer place. I don’t have friends here that I can play with. I want the war to stop and to go back home.”
Hassan*, 52, a farmer, said his house and land were bombed on 27 October. He explained:
“My livelihood and my life are intertwined with the land. I have olive and walnut trees and 200 heads of chicken. We had just started harvesting olives before we had to flee. This year I had more than 300 olive trees, some as old as 90 years. Everything is now gone. I can’t feed my family and seven children anymore. I don’t know if I will be able to send them back to school. When we go back to our village, I need to start from scratch.”
The UN reported that fighting had heavily impacted the agriculture sector in Lebanon’s south, a main source of livelihood and income for families, during ‘a critical period’ due to harvesting and land preparation for the next season. The damage includes land degradation, chemical pollution, and contamination from explosive remnants.
Lebanon’s Ministry of Environment recently announced that it found elevated levels of heavy metals and 900 times the normal amount of phosphorus in soil in areas hit by Israeli artillery and white phosphorus bombs, an incendiary weapon, posing a danger to public health and the local environment. According to Lebanon’s Ministry of Public Health, civilians have been hospitalised following exposure to white phosphorus in Lebanon, posing a serious threat to their lives. Many individuals have been displaced, with their homes and lands catching fire, rendering homes uninhabitable and lands no longer viable for agriculture.
Jennifer Moorehead, Save the Children’s Country Director in Lebanon said:
“Our worst-case scenario is starting to become a reality. We’re seeing thousands of children fleeing their homes and families losing their entire crop, their only source of income. Prior to this escalation, communities in Lebanon were already facing multiple crises, including a deep economic crisis and governance paralysis, fuelling a rise in child protection risks across all population groups.
“Any further escalation of hostilities will mean an unacceptable loss of human life with terrible and far-reaching impacts on lives and livelihoods of children and their families. As always, children will bear the brunt of conflict. We strongly urge all parties to respect international humanitarian law and to de-escalate this crisis immediately. All parties must protect civilians and focus on diplomatic efforts to protect children’s future in Lebanon and the region.”
Save the Children has been working in Lebanon since 1953. For over six decades, Save the Children has used rights-based approaches to increase access by children, adolescents, and youth to quality education; to strengthen child participation and protection at the family, school and community levels; and to increase food security and access to livelihood opportunities, clean water and proper shelter.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
• IOM figures, of those more than 86,000 displaced, 52% are female and 37% are children: https://dtm.iom.int/lebanon