BEIRUT: After completing a $400 million reconstruction of Beirut’s southern suburbs, the Hezbollah-owned Waad institution has one year to decide what it will focus on next. “We are currently discussing what to do, but a decision has yet to be made,” said Hasan Jishi, Waad’s general manager.
“We have a year now, during which we are responsible for any defects that might turn up in the apartments we gave people, as well as malfunctions from improper installation of equipment,” he added.
Jishi spoke to The Daily Star on the sidelines of a two-day workshop focused on Waad’s reconstruction of 270 buildings, mostly in Beirut’s southern suburbs, and a few in Tyre.
The structures were reduced to rubble during Israel’s summer 2006 war on Lebanon.
The massive project, launched by Jihad al-Binaa – Hezbollah’s construction arm – kicked off in June 2007 and wrapped up in May this year.
The workshop, entitled “Waad: A Unique Experience,” started Thursday, six years to the day that the war began on July 12, 2006.
Speaking during the Golden Tulip Hotel event, Assem Salam, the former head of the Order of Engineers and Architects, said that Waad had taken on an almost impossible task.
“I told colleague Hasan [Jishi] it was an adventure on the part of Hezbollah to establish Waad because the conditions for its success were very complicated,” Salam said.
“It is almost impossible to reconstruct a building and improve upon it, secure the same amount of space that every owner, tenant or even squatter [had before the destruction], as well as improve the urban environment,” Salam said. “However, they [Waad] were able to do it.”
He outlined two major elements which he said must be kept intact to preserve city’s memory if it is hit by another war. “These are its people and some existing urban architectural symbols.
“If you remove the people and destroy this heritage, then the reconstruction process will waste ... the identity and feeling of belonging to the land,” Salam explained.
“But Waad clung to people ... and memory and [also] improved conditions,” he said.
Salam said that in the wake of the war, authorities had attempted to derail Waad’s reconstruction efforts.
Taking part in the workshop were experts from Syria, Iran, France, Lebanon and Jordan.
Among the speakers at the opening ceremony was Sayyed Hashem Safieddine, the head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council.
A host of Hezbollah, Amal Movement and Change and Reform parliamentary bloc MPs were also on hand.
Architect Burhan Qataya, the head of Waad’s Architecture Unit, explained that the project did not focus only on engineering and technical processes, but also considered humanitarian and social considerations to be priorities.
Qataya said that this was done through “securing a speedy return of residents to their apartments, jobs and to their familiar suburbs, so that spirit and memories will return to their [proper] place.
“Buildings were reconstructed exactly as they were in terms of usage, number of floors and units,” he added.
Qataya said that Waad took residents’ opinions into account during their work.
“Reconstruction methods were discussed in a meeting with owners of destroyed apartments,” he explained.
Waad also created a department to follow up on home-owners’ demand.
The department communicated with apartment owners and received complaints during and after the building process.
Qataya said Waad received 10,500 requests for alterations in the apartments as they were being built, most from residents.
The department gathered information about the state of the buildings prior to the war and made sure that the features of the new houses were similar.
Some owners received loans from Waad to settle the mortgages of their destroyed houses.
Illegal buildings were not rebuilt, but owners were given compensation to help them find new homes.
The newly constructed buildings are earthquake-resistant and each structure has at least one generator, a significant addition in an area where power cuts are frequent.
The project also renovated public space in the suburbs, specifically in Haret Hreik. Land was turned into a public garden with a three-story parking lot underneath.
Jishi outlined some of the challenges that Waad faced in its five-year task.
The displacement meant that the social fabric of the district needed restoring, he said, adding that the building sites were located in crowded neighborhoods where traffic was sometimes an obstacle to construction.
Jishi said that along with constructing buildings of good quality, Waad was struggling to finish its work as quickly as possible.
“It was 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the winter and we were still working in our offices, forcing the building’s guards to kick us out,” he said.