Life set to get harder for Nahr al-Bared refugees

The 15-week conflict last year between the army and Fatah al-Islam fighters leveled the old camp. (Hugh Macleod/IRIN)


NAHR AL-BARED (IRIN) - As he picked plastics and paper off the rubble-filled conveyor belt, Issam Sayyed indicated to a white house behind him pock-marked with bullet holes and with its roof caved in. “That’s my home,” said the father of nine, a Palestinian refugee displaced from the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon, which was ruined in a 15-week war last year between the army and Islamist insurgents.

Soon the bulldozers clearing the ruins would knock down the white house along with the others, and the remains of Sayyed’s home would be passing before his hands as he sorted through the rubble for a wage of US$13 a day.

Across from the camp in the temporary accommodation known as the “barracks,” Sayyed’s wife was mourning the loss of their tenth child, a baby boy. He had died for lack of medical care just four days after his birth, according to his father.

The failure of the international community, and Arab states in particular, to fund an emergency humanitarian appeal for Nahr al-Bared means life for refugees like Sayyed will get just a little harder.

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees’ emergency appeal for $42 million to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the 30,000 Palestinians displaced from Nahr al-Bared remains almost entirely unfunded.

Only the United States and Norway have donated, meaning UNRWA will this month decrease rental subsidies for 3,200 displaced families from $200 to $150 a month, and reduce items in the food basket each family receives.

In June, UNRWA said it needed about $445 million to rebuild the refugee camp — both the so-called New Camp, which sustained heavy damage, and the original, smaller Old Camp which was completely destroyed.

OPEC

So far UNRWA says it has received just $70 million, 88 percent from Western donations. OPEC, the 13-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which this year is forecast to make record breaking revenues of over $1 trillion, has donated just $5million to the reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared. Six OPEC members are from the Middle East.

The $20 million cost of the projected 18-month rubble removal operation has been half met by the European Union (EU). In July 2007, Saudi Arabia donated $12 million to UNRWA to help displaced families pay rent and buy food, but as yet no Arab government has pledged to the long-term reconstruction of the camp.

“Buried under these thousands of tons of rubble are the dreams and achievements of a people who have waited 60 years for a just solution to their plight,” said UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Filipo Grandi at a press conference in Nahr al-Bared to launch the rubble removal on 29 October.

“Money is the most difficult challenge we face … I am very confident donors from west and east will deliver much-needed funds. What is at stake is the stability of the region and the well-being and future of 30,000 people. That is too important to ignore or forget.”

Protest

As he spoke, a handful of Palestinians held a noisy protest outside the press conference, accusing the international community of failing them.

“For those who believe in human rights what UNRWA is doing is a crime against humanity,” shouted an irate Arkan Bader, a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine faction in Nahr al-Bared.

“They have decreased medical funding by 15 percent. Gulf countries promised in June to pay half their commitments [to Nahr al-Bared] but until now they have paid nothing.”

Unexploded ordnance

The magnitude of the task facing UNRWA and other agencies working on reconstruction and recovery in Nahr al-Bared was underlined by the assessment of a deminer leading the removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the ruins of the camp.

Paul Leader, Nahr al-Bared task manager for Handicap International, which is contracted through UNRWA to clear UXO, said he expected the job could take two-three years to complete, despite an initial contract of just one year.

“Something of this magnitude and this level of contamination has never been done before,” said the veteran deminer, with experience in Iraq and the Balkans. “In any conventional war 10-15 percent of explosives do not explode. And there were a lot thrown in here.”

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