28 September 2011
Nahr el Bared
Excellencies, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome to this important occasion.
We have been working hard altogether to reconstruct Nahr el Bared camp, and it has taken us a bit longer than we anticipated to reach our first milestone when, earlier this year, 369 new homes were finished and consigned to families who were finally able to return: approximately 1200 Palestinians have now done so. We have also inaugurated 56 new shops and three new schools, which are essential to the recovery of the camp. Nevertheless, as the Minister said, much remains to be done before this camp can thrive as it once did. I have faith that it will, helped by the generous and continuing support of everyone here today, and of others who we must ensure hear our call.
Today’s call to “restore dignity” extends to every community of refugees in Lebanon struggling to cope with the catastrophic effects of poverty and hardship. I must first emphasise, however, the special needs of Nahr el Bared and the role of our partners in helping us meet them.
Put simply, UNRWA’s work, in any of the 12 camps in Lebanon, needs the support and understanding of its partners. In this regard, I note with sincere appreciation the role of the Government of Lebanon relating to our work in Nahr el Bared. In donor capitals, the Government has advocated financial support, and on the ground, the Lebanese Army, and other institutions have been engaged in efforts to find solutions to immense challenges, from clearing contaminated rubble to accommodating archaeological discoveries. The cooperation of the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee has been especially valuable and we look forward to its continuation under the leadership of Ambassador Abdel Majed Kassir.
There is one distinct area of concern that we have: The overall deteriorating economic conditions of Nahr El Bared. It is crucial that we re-establish not only the buildings but also the economy of the camp. Access restrictions have suffocated its once-thriving economy, and can only serve to increase refugee reliance on UNRWA. I take this opportunity to urge continued easing by the Lebanese authorities of these restrictions.
The reconstruction of Nahr el Bared so far and relief assistance for its displaced population have been possible only thanks to the generosity of the donors. They have my deep appreciation for this effort. It is clear that real satisfaction has come from seeing this ruined camp returning to life, from turning a symbol of conflict into a beacon of solidarity. I would particularly like to extend my gratitude to the donors who have travelled far to be with us today, notably the Saudi Development Fund, who have funded works in Packages 2 and 3, and the OPEC Fund for International Development, Cayan Company, and the Welfare Association who have generously funded 3 schools in the UNRWA compound. I would also like to register special thanks to the United States which has made a series of large contributions including in the last month $13 million comprising $10.5 million for reconstruction and $2.5 million for relief activities in support of those still displaced. It is also important to reiterate UNRWA’s gratitude for the continued support received from the European Union who recently contributed with an additional EUR 12 million donation to alleviate the suffering of Palestine refugees in Lebanon, and for all other contributions.
Since June 2007, donors have contributed $273 million to UNRWA’s activities for Nahr el Bared. Remaining needs include a shortfall of $195 million for reconstruction, and some $26 million for relief until 2013. Relief activities, by the way, are essential while refugees from Nahr el Bared remain displaced, since they depend on this assistance for many aspects of their survival. These are large sums under any circumstances, and in the context of the current global economic climate they appear even more formidable. Having come this far together, however, and in light of the significance of this project for the Palestine refugees and, as the key stakeholders have acknowledged, for stability in Lebanon, all partners must continue to show endurance and determination. We must see this essential project through to its completion.
Allow me to take this opportunity to look beyond Nahr El Bared, to the situation of refugees in Lebanon.
The extent of refugee vulnerability in Lebanon was recently confirmed in a survey carried out by UNRWA and the American University of Beirut. For an absolute majority of refugees, daily reality is crumbling and unsanitary homes, chronic food insecurity, and severely restricted access to life-saving medical care, education and even drinking water. Today we wish to launch an appeal to “restore dignity” to deliver concrete improvements in their lives for a five-year period ending in 2016, not only by narrowing severe gaps in their humanitarian needs but also by investing in their human development through education and skills training. The appeal’s scope is wide, but every aspect is justified by the acute needs of the refugees and the special capacity of UNRWA – so long as it is adequately resourced – to address these needs through cost-effective and results-oriented programming within a specific time frame.
The appeal we are launching today thus extends to all critically vulnerable Palestine refugees in Lebanon, and is meant to raise funds for special projects over and above the basic resources which UNRWA will to continue to need to sustain its core programmes - education, health and poverty alleviation. The appeal is for approximately $147 million covering a five-year period, until 2016. Some pledges have already been received; for next year, we therefore need an additional $26 million.
Let me emphasise that UNRWA seeks to deliver the sum total of activities in Lebanon that I have described without prejudice to the rights of the refugees. UNRWA will continue to fulfil its mandate and provide assistance and protection to almost five million Palestine refugees in the region until there is a just and lasting solution to the refugee issue according to UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and other UN resolutions.
I would like to conclude my comments with some words to the refugees of Nahr el Bared themselves, whose presence here today gives this occasion special meaning. You have shown dignity and strength over these past four years, despite the intolerable conditions of your prolonged displacement. I am certain that you will continue to show these exceptional qualities, knowing that we are redoubling our efforts to complete the reconstruction of your camp and the homes you lost four years ago. Neither UNRWA nor its partners will stop until this objective is achieved.