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Lebanon News

Norway donates $2 million for Nahr al-Bared reconstruction

Norwegian Ambassador to Lebanon Svein Aass, second right, and UNRWA director general Salvatore Lombardo, second left, speak during a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: The Norwegian ambassador to Lebanon announced Wednesday a $2 million donation toward the reconstruction of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, a contribution that pushes total funds to nearly half the amount needed to complete the rebuild.

“It’s an important step in our view to alleviate widespread poverty prevailing among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon,” said the Norwegian envoy, Svein Aass.

Aass announced the gift during a news conference at the U.N. Relief and Works Agency’s headquarters in Beirut’s southern suburbs which was attended by Palestinian officials and UNRWA director general Salvatore Lombardo, as well as camp residents.

“We place, as Norwegians, a great importance on the situation of the Palestinian refugees and the important and also challenging work of the UNRWA,” Aass said.

The camp, which is near Tripoli, was almost completely destroyed four years ago by fighting between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Army. The five-month campaign to purge the camp of the Islamist group, which was using the area as a military headquarters, left around 400 dead and nearly 1,000 wounded.

Many buildings in the camp were severely damaged during the fighting and most of the 30,000 residents were forced to flee their homes.

Temporary housing was provided to residents and the camp has been divided into eight sections to rebuild. UNRWA officials said that with the contribution from Norway they have received $145 million of the $350 million needed to rebuild the camp. Current reconstruction is focused on the third section of the camp.

UNRWA administers Lebanon’s 12 refugee camps which house about half of the 455,000 refugees registered with the organization in the country.

The camps are not policed by Lebanese Internal Security, and many witness periodic violence between Palestinian groups and serve as havens for regional terrorist organizations.

Norway’s contribution was pledged under UNRWA’s “Restoring Dignity” fundraising appeal, which aims to raise $147 million by 2016.

So far UNRWA has raised only a fraction of the new appeal’s ultimate financial goal.

“We will continue to press on states to contribute to restoring dignity,” said Lombardo.

Following the news conference, Lombardo listened to camp residents’ concerns, saying much more needed to be done to address them.

“Certainty it’s a concern that we have not received all the funds that we need,” he said. “You are right to be concerned because we don’t have the money to reconstruct the old camp.”

But the reassurance wasn’t enough for residents in the camps whose homes are scheduled to be rebuilt last.

Noura Louban said she was worried by the general lack of services, security, access to health care and the young men who loiter near her temporary home, which she said is so small and poorly ventilated that she can barely cook in it.

Entering the temporary camp is difficult for taxis, so residents must walk to the road, even to seek medical help, Louban said, adding: “There’s no cemetery, even if they want to bury me.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 23, 2012, on page 4.

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