Ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared

09 March 2009

Commissioner-General’s remarks

9 March 2009

Lebanon 

Prime Minister Siniora, Ambassador Zaki, Your Excellencies:

It is an honor and a pleasure to be here today.  As we gather  to lay the foundation stone for the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared, we all – especially the refugees  -  are entitled to share a sense of pride and excitement at arriving at this moment.  We are here not as individuals or as representatives of governments or agencies, but as partners united in our determination to restore for the refugees of Nahr el-Bared and the neighbouring communities, a safe and dignified life of opportunity.

This ceremony has been a long time coming. As I look around, I clearly see how much hard work has gone into bringing us to this point.   I recall driving through this camp in mid-November 2007 and witnessing the desolation, the scale of destruction and a landscape dominated by mountains of rubble and the debris of armed conflict.

It was not an easy feat to clear the rubble in preparation for the process of reconstruction. Besides being physically daunting and requiring intensive coordination among many partners, the task was complicated by heavy contamination by unexploded ordnance, with significant risks to refugees and the staff of all agencies concerned.  Fortunately, through hard work and dedication of a variety of partners, the obstacles were overcome, making possible the steady progress which has brought us to the milestone we are marking today. 

I express UNRWA’s and my personal thanks to each government, agency and individual who gave of their time, expertise, energy and resources to make today possible.  Allow me to mention our gratitude to the Lebanese Government, Prime Minsiter Siniora, Ambassador Makkawi and members of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee; representatives of the PLO; donors who have contributed generously; our UNDP partners in the rubble removal process; the de-mining experts from Handicap International; and the Nahr el-Bared Reconstruction Commission that has worked with UNRWA from the outset. This is a truly dedicated team from the community that has rendered sterling service in helping us map out the camp as it was and how it should be in the future.

The laying of the foundation stone is a firm promise for a new beginning for the refugees whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed.  It constitutes a statement of the seriousness of the international community’s intent to follow through with the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared.  As we enjoy this moment of anticipation, however, we must bear in mind the challenges that lie ahead.

The refugees from Nahr el-Bared will remain in a state of displacement for months to come, living either in rented housing or temporary shelters UNRWA has built with the support of donors. They will continue to be heavily dependent on UNRWA for assistance such as cash rental subsidies and food aid.  Given these continuing needs, it is a matter of concern that UNRWA’s Relief and Early Recovery Appeal remains largely unfunded, making it uncertain whether we will be able to fully discharge our humanitarian obligations.

Socio-economic recovery of the camp and its surrounding areas remains vital. Only by re-establishing businesses, allowing for trade and for the creation of employment opportunities can we ensure a departure from poverty and reliance on relief aid. For the approximately ten thousand people that have returned to the Adjacent Area, issues of access, freedom of movement and socio-economic opportunity will continue to be paramount.  I hope we see  significant and sustained change in these critical matters as we begin construction work here in the camp.

A further difficulty – and a particularly worrying one – is the disappointing donor response to the Nahr el-Bared appeal.   Funds received so far will allow us to construct only the first two of the eight phases envisaged for the project. This translates into housing for approximately a quarter of the 27,000 refugees whose homes were destroyed.  I take this opportunity to call once more on the  the donor community to be more forthcoming and generous with their pledges.  Your help is indispensable if UNRWA is to be able to support and assist the displaced refugees, to see the reconstruction project through to its timely completion and to enable the refugees to move back to a rebuilt Nahr el-Bared.

Like Palestine refugees across this region, those displaced from Nahr el-Bared have displayed extraordinary resilience in the face of adversity and tremendous odds.  In spite of their long acquaintance with hardships, their desire for self reliance and their hope in a better tomorrow remain unshaken.  We must respond – rapidly and decisively – to the refugees’ belief in a future of dignity and opportunity and we must make the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared a vital part of that response.  The immensity of the task should serve to strengthen our resolve.  We must reconstruct Nahr el-Bared - for the sake not only of the refugees, but also for the peace, security and prosperity of this corner of Northern Lebanon.   Today’s ceremony must be more than just a beginning.  Let us make it a source of inspiration for achieving our common goal to tackle and complete the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared.

Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 68.2 million.

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