Statement by the UNRWA Commissioner-General, Karen Koning AbuZayd on Nahr el-Bared camp Master Plan
Press Conference with Prime Minister Siniora, 12 February 2008
We have an immense challenge in front of us. Reconstructing Nahr el-Bared camp will require a massive effort and it will be a long undertaking. What we must do is build a whole town out of the ashes of the old: houses, mosques and places of business, allowing thousands of people to return to the place they have called home for decades. This will not be easy and we should be aware of the difficulties that may lie ahead.
No one organization can do this alone. UNRWA will be working closely with the Lebanese Government and the Palestinian Community but we also need to rely on other UN agencies and NGOs, and we will need the sustained backing of the donor community. We must all work together if we are to succeed.
On behalf of UNRWA, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Siniora for his commitment to the task ahead of us. Agreeing on the Master Plan for the reconstruction of the camp is only the first step on a journey to seeing the camp rebuilt and displaced refugees moving back, but it is an important step.
I would also like to thank the PM for his dedication to improving living conditions for Palestine refugees in Lebanon. Immediately upon assuming office in 2005 Prime Minister Siniora demonstrated his intent to work with UNRWA on important issues, such as the Camp Improvement Initiative, and I wish to state clearly that UNRWA is very pleased with our cooperation. We have had excellent relations with the Lebanese government, especially the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, headed by Ambassador Makkawi, to whom I would also like to offer my thanks today. In preparing the Master Plan we have benefited from our cooperation with Lebanese civil society, the Nahr el-Bared Reconstruction Commission, and the American University of Beirut. Without their enthusiasm and hard work we would not be here today.
While it is an important achievement to have finalized the Master Plan for the camp, many challenges remain ahead. The Master Plan will be a vehicle for funding the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared, and we hope donors will respond generously to our call for assistance. Now that the Master Plan is ready, we shall begin planning for a donor conference.
Today is only the beginning, and there are many obstacles to overcome. First we must ensure that the camp is safe for work to commence. The Lebanese Army is now allowing access for refugee families into areas considered safe, so they may recover any available documents and valuables. We will then have to remove the rubble: a daunting task given the level of destruction and the amount of rubble - this may take months.
We are planning a phased approach so that construction can begin immediately in areas that have been cleared.
UNRWA is determined to see the job through and meanwhile shall ensure that the needs of the displaced refugees are met and that they are able to live in dignity in a safe environment. Patience is needed. I must stress this, since I know that the refugees are very anxious to return home.
We will not only reconstruct the old camp, but also make it a better environment in which our architectural plans ensure that people have access to daylight no matter where they live; there will be ventilation where there was no ventilation before; and we will create open spaces for the benefit of the population, especially the children, while also keeping in mind the legitimate security concerns of the Lebanese army and Government.
The reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared camp will be by far the biggest single project undertaken by UNRWA. It will require an immense effort. Our partners again will be the Lebanese government, the Palestinian population and other stakeholders, and I can only hope that our cooperation will be as satisfactory as it has been until now. In fact, I am sure this will be the case.