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French Version

Tikrit in the spotlight of war against poverty

Village – which is in akkar, not iraq – benefits from aid projects
An irrigation plan for the community’s farming has boosted the local economy

Inhabitants, agricultural cooperative members and municipality officials of Tikrit asked the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for more funding for rural development programs in their area.

The Tikrit in question is not the hometown of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but a small Lebanese village in the middle of Akkar in North Lebanon, 120 kilometers away from the Beirut.

The fertile land, owned and worked by the farmers themselves, used to be fully irrigated. But the mechanization of agriculture, the high costs of labor and water shortages led to the neglect of large tracts of agricultural land.“The latest government project in our region was in the late 60s when a handful of artesian wells were dug haphazardly,” said Mayor Hatem al-Ali. “It is thanks to the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), disbursing USAID grants that vital projects were carried out.”

“Over the past five years about a total of $230,000 was spent on various essential projects,” said Ghassan Sayyah, YMCA CEO. “The YMCA-USAID grants amounted to $140,000 and the local authorities contributing the remainder.”

“The most important was the rehabilitation of the main artesian well at a total cost of $85,000,” said Joseph Kassab, YMCA project manager. “The potable water tower is adequately supplied and the drinking water is tested periodically to ensure its safety.”
“A second pipeline takes the water to higher ground to feed a network of irrigation pipes, which use natural gravity.”
“Wheat and olive trees were the traditional crops,” said Mustafa Riyaq, head of the Tikrit Agricultural Production Cooperative. “Thanks to the new supply of water we are able to grow a variety of fruit trees, as well as tomatoes and cucumbers. Honey production is also set to increase.”

Deputy Mayor Riad Attieh said that, apart from agriculture, a large portion of the local population of 18,000 is employed by the public sector, mainly in the armed forces. Garages for mechanical and body repairs are the only local light industry.“The development of cottage industries, where local women are earning much needed extra income, has tremendously advanced social and women’s issues,” said Riyaq. “Sixteen women are currently in training to swell the ranks of the existing group of 45.”

The cooperative has already laid the foundations for a new 260-square-meter facility to house all its equipment and offices. The recent quarries’ closure has delayed the work due to lack of materials, but Riyaq is confident that the new center will be operational very soon.

Other YMCA-USAID projects to date include solar dryers, agricultural roads, irrigation channels, rehabilitation of local schools and garbage bins for a cleaner environment. But the village still suffers from chronic problems that require urgent attention.

The municipality said that over 90 percent of water springs are polluted by sewage. Tikrit has no sewage system and the stench in certain places is ample proof of this. Another looming problem is the accumulation of solid waste. A landfill is the only presently available solution, until a solid waste treatment plant project materializes.“We urgently require more funds to implement the required solutions,” said all of the municipality’s council members. “As we are unable to count on our own government, the YMCA-USAID grants are our best bet to carry out these projects.”

“Unfortunately our scope of action is limited by the limited funding we receive from USAID,” said Sayyah. “It would be ideal if we could carry out all the necessary projects in Tikrit and other similar needy villages, but we have to allocate our limited resources on the basis of priority.”

As for why their village is called Tikrit, Mukhtar Fawzi Rustom gave an explanation.“Our village used to be called ‘Al-Bustan’ in the old days. It was renamed Tikrit following the liberation of the area from the Crusaders by one of Salaheddine al-Ayyoubi’s favorite officers, who was either called Tikrit or originally came from that region in Iraq,” he said.

“Whenever anyone wants to connect us with Tikrit in Iraq, we always reply that we are a peaceful community with no love for tyrants,” Ali said. “We have always supported the people of Iraq, and not their leaders, and we will continue to do so until they freely achieve whatever regime they deem best for themselves.”

Beirut,08 01 2003
Ara Alain Arzoumanian
The Daily Star
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