A year ago last May, the small (less than 50 acres), dense camp of 33,000 people was destroyed = levelled = reduced to a pile of rubble that will take 500 dump truck loads a day five months to remove. And only last month was access to the site finally granted by the Lebanese Army. A UN/NGO team quickly moved in to conduct a risk assessment and survey, and determined that of the five areas in the camp, 2 were considered “green,” or safe to enter, 3 were “amber,” and 1 “red,” or known to have quantities of unexploded ordnance and/or mines. De-mining and rubble removal will be conducted simultaneously, sector by sector. All that work needs to be complete before reconstruction can begin. Photo is what is left of Nahr el-Bared Camp.
Meanwhile the 5,449 displaced refugee families are living in rented accommodations (approx. 3,600) with host families (560) mostly in the other nearby refugee camp that was already way overcrowded, and in very basic temporary shelters built by UNRWA (430, including 220 in double stacked metal prefab units that are proving to be very hot and noisy).
UNRWA provides health and education services to the refugees in all 12 camps in Lebanon, but for the Nahr el-Bared displaced refugees it also provides emergency food and non-food items, rental assistance, water, electricity, solid waste service, and as many emergency shelters as we could find land to build on. We are also going to rebuild the old camp, assuming donor fatigue hasn't set in and donor countries will respond with the needed funds. Something like $52 million was donated last year; much more will be needed for reconstruction.
The UNRWA office compound at the camp won’t be rebuilt for many months either--it will be the first site cleared of rubble but then will be used as a rubble sorting site for the rest of the camp. Since the crisis, UNRWA offices in the north have up until now been in a tired conference room (with too few outlets) at the Quality Inn. In a couple of months we will move to Ye Olde metal prefabs to be placed on an unused fair ground behind the hotel, some 10 miles from the camp. But K actually spends most of her time at the Beirut office. Her boss is there, not by choice but trapped by meetings with the director, other staff, the government and donors, and also by the bureaucracy that threatens to strangle us all.
The Lebanon Field Office is a faded, three story structure inside a walled compound on the highway to the airport. From the third floor you can glimpse the sea. Office hours for some unknown reason are 7:15 - 2:45, though many international staff and some dedicated locals work much later, K's boss among them. Buses ferry Palestinians from most of the camps in Lebanon each day to work. The vast majority of people who work for UNRWA are Palestinian, something like 22,000 to 150 (not all in Lebanon! HQ is in Amman and Gaza, and there are also offices in the West Bank and Damascus). Working at UNRWA is the only place in Lebanon where they may take any job; Palestinians in Lebanon are forbidden from working in most professions. Only recently were they allowed to get work permits for manual and clerical jobs. They have lived here for 60 years! (While Israelis wer celebrating the 60th anniversary of the creation of Israel, eslewhere took place the commemoration of the 60th year since Nakba--the day of catastrophe).
So, while I work with refugees, I rarely visit the camps. I travel to Tripoli usually twice a week, and spend my time there in the office at the Quality Inn. We don't even take lunch breaks or come up for air. I sit in meetings and seek out the different people who lead the water and sanitation team or the education team or the health team, and put together progress reports. Occasionally I get to tag along to the adjacent area of the camp, where almost 2,000 of the displaced families have managed to return, or to Beddawi Camp, where 500 more still live. Sometimes I stay overnight at the hotel. Soon I may be staying instead at an apartment recently rented by UNRWA for a Swiss architect and a Danish Technical Advisor.
- Last night, in the hotel, I heard a number of explosions and feared the worst. I peaked out the hotel curtains and coould only catch the occasional flash of light. The barrage continued. I dressed and went across the hall to look out the window on the other side. Fireworks. Red, green, white fireworks. Later I learned it had nothing to do with the new president or the country, but the success of a local basketball team.
- Today I rode back from Tripoli in an armored vehicle. It was a Toyota armored in the Czech Republic--apparently a big business there. You don't roll down the windows because they are too heavy to roll up.