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Lebanon: ICRC helps restore water, work and hope at Nahr el-Bared

11-03-2008 Feature

Life is slowly returning to the once-thriving camp of Nahr el-Bared, in northern Lebanon, which was devastated by three months of fighting in 2007. The ICRC is helping in the rebirth of the camp by restoring the water supply. Samar el Kadi reports from Tripoli.

Water works


Water works inside the devastated camp 

The ICRC, which played a key role in assisting the civilian population during the hostilities, began its rehabilitation programme just a month after the end of fighting between the Lebanese Army and militiamen of Fatah el-Islam.

  ©ICRC/J. Raich / lb-e-00991    
Water trucking point at the Gineen reservoir    

Following an assessment of water needs and the damaged infrastructure, and in cooperation with the UN and Works Agency (UNRWA), the ICRC began rehabilitating the main water lines and assisting the war-affected population returning to the camp, originally home to some 30,000 Palestinian refugees.

Two months after work began in early November 2007, ICRC's water engineers had completed the network in the southern section of the camp, having laid about a kilometer of water pipes. These will allow for connections to potential future networks, to service the old part of the camp that is still a mound of ruins and gutted buildings.

Since then, work has started on the line to service other parts of the camp. The work has to take into account not only present needs but likely growth, comments ICRC water engineer Paul-Henri Bourlon.

One of the main challenges facing humanitarian organizations in the initial phase was to cater for the immediate needs of the returning population while launching the 4-month project, explains ICRC field officer Randa Sabeh Aoin.

  ©ICRC/J. Raich / lb-e-00999    
Residents from Nahr el Bared fetching water    
    " The first thing we did was to ensure that water could be trucked from the existing Jenin well to meet the emergency needs of some 1,200 returning families, " she says.
The Islamic Relief and ACTED (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) take care of the trucking of water. An average of 75 truck-loads, of 4,000 litres each, ensure the daily water supply to the returnees, including 125 families relocated in temporary shelters built by UNRWA near the camp.
Another problem that the ICRC had to overcome was the loss of records, including infrastructure plans. " We were going around talking to people, prodding their memory to locate the existing water lines, " Bourlon says.
In all, the ICRC has so far renovated two reservoirs (60 cubic metres each) and is repairing a third. It is also installing chlorination equipment for treating the water in four wells and installing a generator and pump at another one.
ICRC water projects at Nahr el-Bared are helping to secure badly-needed jobs for the impoverished camp population, who lost their livelihoods and homes in the fighting. The number of daily workers employed by ICRC varies according to needs.
" People are in dire need of work and of an income. Definitely, the ICRC created opportunities for work, " notes Abou Othman, the foreman, himself a camp resident.
The projects are due to be completed by the end of March, at an estimated cost of $250,000. The camp will then benefit from a new main water line, which UNRWA can develop by installing branch lines that will provide water to the family hom es of the future.

In spirit, it's business as usual


In spirit, it's business as usual 

The new camp is slowly coming to life. The first batch of returnees had to live in dire conditions, in buildings without doors or windows. Many sought shelter in deserted shops and stores that were still standing. They brought mattresses, blankets and whatever household items they had been given by relief organizations during their displacement in nearby Beddawi camp.

  ©ICRC/J. Raich / lb-e-00996    
Shops re-opening in Nahr el Bared camp    
    " At the beginning we slept on the floor, using bed sheets and anything we could get to seal holes in the walls and the shattered windows, " says Jamal, 50, whose house was burned, along with all its contents. " We had little choice but to settle in what is left of our house, " he adds.

A number of shops and small businesses h ave re-opened, selling meat, fruit and vegetables, clothes, furniture – and that most necessary luxury, sweets and other local delicacies. Builder's supplies, such as paint, electrical appliances and other household items have also become available.

In his modest shop on the camp's main road, Nasser Fargawi sells electrical goods, including cables, light bulbs, switches and chandeliers. After losing his two shops in the old camp, Fargawi is re-starting his once-booming business from scratch.

  ©ICRC/J. Raich / lb-e-00997    
Life returns to Nahr el Bared camp: family with new-born child    
    " I had to sell my wife's gold jewellery to get the capital to be able to resume work, " he says. Fargawi remembers the good old days when the camp was a commercial hub for northern Lebanon. " We relied basically on the outside market, with customers coming from as far away as Akkar and Zghorta, " he remembers. " I had eight employees at the time, but now it is a one-man show… I am trying to make something out of nothing, " he adds.

Umm Hussam Wehbeh displays an array of items in her small, pockmarked shop, ranging from chocolates, chewing gum and biscuits to clothes, perfume and shoes.

" We have restarted from zero, but with God's help we will rise from under the rubble, " says the determined 60-year-old woman whose husband owned three clothing shops in the old camp.

Nevertheless, all the traders complain about the lack of business. " There is lots of demand for the goods, but no one has any money and I can no longer give credit like before, " explains Fargawi.

Umm Hussam Wehbeh is confident, all the same: " Slowly we will be able to stand on our feet again and re-establish our life, " she insists.

In Lebanon, despite all the odds, optimism never seems far away.