Bisri Dam Project Fallout: The Nahouli Family’s Battle for Compensation Exposes Gaps with the World Bank’s Due Diligence
Myriam Nahouli delivering her testimony during the CSPF panel titled: “Examining Barriers to Accountability for Communities in the Middle East & North Africa– Marrakech October 12.
Myriam Nahouli, along with her father Mohamad Nahouli, brother Nadim Nahouli, and sister Yara Nahouli, were once proud owners of an orchard in the village of Midane in Lebanon. However, their lives took an unexpected turn when their land fell within the boundaries of the Lebanon Water Supply Augmentation Project (Bisri Dam) which was financed by the World Bank.
The Nahouli family’s ordeal began in 2018. The expropriation of their land meant more than just the loss of a piece of property; it meant the loss of an essential source of livelihood. This orchard had been generating a yearly income of $100,000, which was critical to the family’s financial stability. This loss weighed heavily, especially on their father, who now relies on a meager $120 monthly retirement, and regrettably, the compensation they rightfully deserve remains pending to this day.
The Nahouli family’s journey from that point forward has been fraught with financial hardship and legal battles. On March 28, 2018, a legal committee issued a ruling, providing estimates for the two parcels of land, namely Parcel 871 and Parcel 870.
However, this evaluation was based on the state of the orchard in 2013, failing to account for the actual value of the orchard, including plantations, cultivated trees, irrigation systems, and the labor invested in its upkeep. Additionally, the surface of the river that was part of their land was not properly accounted for, despite ownership documents explicitly confirming their rights to it.
The Nahouli family appealed the initial ruling, and a subsequent trial in November 2018 revised the valuation to a higher price per square meter. This second ruling corrected an earlier oversight by affirming the family’s rights to the river surface, which the initial ruling had mistakenly overlooked.
In August 2019, when payment finally seemed imminent, the CDR requested various documents, including a financial clearance payment of 97,346,000 LBP ($64,254 at the rate of $1 = 1515 LBP) owed to the Lebanese finance ministry.
In September 2019, the family submitted the necessary documents and paid the clearance fees. However, the CDR, in an unexpected turn of events, overlooked the court of appeal’s decision from November 2018. Instead, they determined the new payment based on the initial trial results from March 2018, leading to a reduced estimated land value and the exclusion of the river’s surface. Faced with a seemingly insurmountable situation and Lebanon’s complex economic challenges, the Nahouli family signed with reservations, indicating their partial agreement with the offered payment.
In January and February 2020, the Nahouli family received checks for (576,410,070) LBP (Plot #870) and (2,518,455,690) LBP (Plot #871). However, these funds have been frozen, so they cannot withdraw them from banks due to the ongoing financial crisis in Lebanon.
The Lebanese Commission for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), which was in charge of the implementation of this project, repeatedly postponed payment deadlines, citing a lack of funds and the need for more World Bank financing. This prompted the initiation of a third trial in July 2020 to secure compensation for the prolonged delay in payments.
The Nahouli family did not receive the remaining unpaid amount nor do they have access to the first payment which has been blocked by Lebanon’s banks due the country’s economic crisis.
|Ruled (LBP)||Paid (LBP)||Due (LBP)|
|Plot #870||907,350,000||576,410,070¹||330,939,930 ($218,442)²|
|Plot #871||3,288,370,000||2,518,455,690¹||769,914,310 ($508,195) ²|
*The payment check did not correspond to the amount specified in the ruling*
¹ The amount paid in the bank is blocked and only 5,000,000 LBP can be withdrawn per month at a physical counter and the rate to convert back in dollar is $1 = 82,000 LBP (as of 03/05/2023, there has been a lot of variation since the financial crisis)
² The rate used here is $1 = 1515 LBP which was the rate before the crisis
Myriam Nahouli poignantly reflects on their situation, saying,“First of all, our orchard was a lifetime project and it is sad to see it in such a sorry state. The emotional toll can’t be measured. Not only because it was a piece of land that we planted, nourished, grown and cared for, but also because of the mental load caused by the last few years. A lot of time and energy are spent between chasing money and lawsuits. Adding to this moral prejudice, we are facing a major financial burden as well.”
In light of the distressing experiences the Nahouli family endured, Myriam decided to take a stand and submitted a complaint to the Grievance Redress Service of the World Bank (GRS) in September 2021. The GRS serves as an avenue for individuals and communities to voice their concerns when they believe that a World Bank-supported project has, or is likely to have, adverse effects on their lives, communities, or the environment.
The GRS determined that the bank could not address the issues related to the devaluation of the Lebanese pound and the numerous violations of the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP). They concluded that the Lebanese state, not the bank, should address this issue. They recommended the family obtain clearance from the Lebanese Ministry of Finance, which is an unattainable task given that the land is no longer in their possession. Despite their assurance of assistance with the clearance process from the Lebanese Ministry of Finance in June 2022, there has been no communication or updates from them thus far.
Myriam submitted another complaint on March 7, 2023, this time to the Inspection Panel. The Inspection Panel is an independent complaints mechanism for individuals and communities who feel that they have been affected by a World Bank-funded project.
However, the Panel found the request inadmissible, as the project in question had already received full disbursement. This led to a Notice of Non-Registration issued on April 17, 2023.
Where Has the Compensation Money Gone?
The Nahouli family’s ongoing struggle for fair compensation exposes a deeper, more systemic issue. The Lebanese government was fully funded in American dollars to support the resettlement plan, including due compensation to those displaced by the Bisri Dam project. Yet, the Nahouli family was compensated in a devalued local currency, without adjustments for the economic collapse, raising serious concerns about the mismanagement of these funds.
The family’s initial payment is currently held by the bank, and they are still awaiting the disbursement of the remaining unpaid compensation. The pressing question that lingers is: Where did the money go?
Financial institutions such as the World Bank have a responsibility to provide more than just capital; they must ensure its proper use. Such oversight is crucial to prevent the perpetuation of corruption and to safeguard the interests of people, whose lives and livelihoods depend on these projects. The plight of the Nahouli family should serve as a catalyst for the World Bank to strengthen their monitoring and accountability mechanisms to ensure that their funds are not misappropriated but rather bring about the positive change for which they were intended.
In a Q&A on August 5, 2019, Saroj Kumar Jha, then World Bank Regional Director for the Middle East and now Global Director for the World Bank’s Water Global Practice, stated, “The project was designed according to international best practice in reducing the impacts on local communities. Those who will be impacted by the project are entirely accounted for and measures are put in place to ensure that their livelihoods are sustained and concerns are addressed.”
He added “The expropriation of land is ongoing and affects 861 landowners of which only 96 live in the area and rely on the land partially for their income and livelihood. Land owners are provided cash compensation calculated at replacement cost in accordance with the World Bank’s policies.”
Jha assured that “Additional assistance will be provided to help restore incomes and rehabilitate livelihoods as needed.”
Yet, for the Nahoulis, who have seen their livelihood vanish, this assurance remains unfulfilled, leaving them to grapple with the loss of income and a struggle for redress. Meanwhile, other families in similar circumstances are afraid to speak up, adding to the complexity of the issue.
Written by Mariya Sahnouni