“When I visited Nahr el-Bared Camp at the beginning of last year, I witnessed first-hand the extremely difficult conditions which are being endured by the 600 families which still reside in the temporary shelters,” UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl tells the assembled delegates at the Nahr el-Bared Reconstruction Project Donors Meeting held in Beirut
Prime Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please allow me to begin by expressing my sincere appreciation to Prime Minister Salam, for hosting - in this wonderful setting - an event that comes at an immensely difficult period for the displaced Nahr El Bared refugees.
I would like to thank all partners who have gathered here this afternoon to review progress in what remains the single largest reconstruction project undertaken to date by the Agency in any of its fields of operation and to look forward to the next steps.
We are now in the tenth year since the Nahr el-Bared Camp was destroyed. Three major reconstruction contracts are underway, which when completed next year will have enabled almost 2,700 families, or 54% of the population, to return to new homes.
Five of the six school complexes have been completed, allowing over 3,000 students to resume their education in purpose-built accommodation. The Health Centre, the largest in Lebanon Field, was reopened three years ago and caters for the entire camp population. 710 of the planned 1,110 retail units have been finished, enabling commercial activity in the Old Camp to begin to recover.
Notwithstanding these achievements, there is - as we are all aware - still a substantial shortfall in the funding which is needed to complete the project. When I visited Nahr el-Bared Camp at the beginning of last year, I witnessed first-hand the extremely difficult conditions which are being endured by the 600 families which still reside in the temporary shelters.
The film we just saw now describes this hardship and tells the stories of people whose lives of forced displacement echo the plight of Palestine refugees across the region. We heard the poignant story told by Fatima, who has experienced multiple displacements in her life.
While at least this Camp is being rebuilt, her story tells of the trauma of dispossession and displacement which she, and many like her, have endured over the years.
I stand before you today to tell you why the world should care about the fate of the Nahr El-Bared community when there are so many other pressing issues to deal with.
The World should do so:
Because it should uphold the agreement made eight years ago at the Vienna Conference to support the return of the displaced families and provide them with a solid foundation for rebuilding their lives in dignity.
Because rebuilding the camp is a prerequisite for enabling the community of Nahr el-Bared to restart its economic and social life. We are all aware of the difficult and chronic situation faced by Palestine refugees in Lebanon.
Because the Palestine refugees in Lebanon are themselves a ‘host community’ to the Palestine refugees from Syria who have fled the conflict. Their capacity to continue to host their fellow Palestine refugees from Syria is dependent on the full and sustainable recovery of Nahr el-Bared camp.
Because the risks of radicalization of isolated and desperate young people are huge. Extremists are on the constant outlook for new recruits. We have a collective duty to protect Palestine refugees from such risks.
And therefore, I am convinced that renewed attention to Palestine refugees in Lebanon and NBC in particular, is urgent. It is a matter of humanity. But it is also a real investment in the stability of Lebanon and beyond. Overlooking that is a risk no one should not be taking.
The inclusion of the Reconstruction Project as one of the top three infrastructure priorities of the Government of Lebanon at the London Syria Conference earlier this year has injected a new sense of momentum into the Agency’s resource mobilization activities.
This almost immediately paid dividends, with a number of donors making significant pledges in support of the completion of the project. Other donors have also expressed interest in supporting the project and the challenge now is to galvanise this energy into concrete pledges that will enable us to complete the reconstruction.
The current shortfall for the project is USD 137 million, not including any pledges which may be announced today. We understand that this is a significant sum of money in the current financial climate and UNRWA has looked for ways to compress this budget.
Following the Lebanon Statement at the London Syria Conference in February, the high profile visit by the UNSG in March as well as your recent statement in New York, Prime Minister, have created a significant window of opportunity for this project. I am convinced that we have a responsibility to seize this momentum. If we do not, we risk alienating the remaining displaced people, abandoning them to despair and the effects of frustration that comes with it.
Finally, completing this project is important at a regional level. With so many Palestinian refugee camps destroyed in Syria, it is important for UNRWA to demonstrate that - together with its partners- it has the capacity to complete projects on this scale, I therefore repeat here that UN member states have a responsibility to keep alive hope and dignity for Palestine Refugees living in Lebanon.
I hope some of you will take the opportunity to visit Nahr el-Bared over the coming days, as nothing can substitute for seeing the camp first-hand.
In the meantime, I call on you once again to join us in the essential effort to complete the NBC project and live up to the agreement the international community made.
I thank you.