Since opening its offices in Lebanon in August of 2006, ACTED Lebanon has been quite active not only in a post-conflict emergency situation following the war of last summer, but also more recently in an emergency intervention in North Lebanon in response to the outbreak of violence in a Palestinian Refugee camp in late May. Beyond this, the ACTED team has been identifying new sectors in which to get involved in longer term development projects in the country. ACTED Lebanon has opened a new base in Tripoli, and will hopefully expand activities into other regions in the country.
ACTED Lebanon: Past and Ongoing Projects
By the end of February 2007, ACTED had successfully completed an emergency watsan project funded by UNICEF, trucking almost 7,000,000L of water to villages in southern Lebanon and conducting water hygiene workshops with over 1,000 women. A project funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Development (ECHO) project also saw the repair of four water network pipelines, benefiting over 60,000 residents of the villages served by these networks.
Building on these initial watsan projects, we are also beginning work on repairing a section of a waste water pipeline, damaged by shelling last summer and causing contamination of local water wells. The ECHO-funded project will as well target the rehabilitation and reconstruction of a number of water reservoirs in order to supply targeted villages with sufficient and reliable water during the dry summer months and beyond.
Today, ACTED is also implementing a shelter project in southern Lebanon, assisting families in waterproofing and light repairs to homes damaged during last summer's conflict. The project is active in 5 villages so far, and will expand in the next few months. The thorough social and technical assessments being conducted with the targeted beneficiary population, as well as an emphasis on community mobilization through close relationships with municipality representatives, will allow ACTED to simultaneously implementing the current intervention while identifying other needs in the communities for future projects.
The team in Lebanon is also conducting a variety of assessments in various sectors in order to identify a number of longer term projects that will not only focus on the remaining needs of the population directly affected by the 2006 conflict, but also other areas of the country in need of support. As such, an ACTED team is undertaking a survey of the agriculture and irrigation situation of farmers in southern Lebanon. Further assessments are being conducted in the education sector, with a focus on public primary schools with a view to being a part of a comprehensive school intervention that will involve rehabilitation of school structures, community mobilization, capacity building, and health, hygiene, nutrition, and early childhood development education.
Nahr El Bared: Lebanon's New Crisis
Lebanon is home to almost 400,000 Palestinian refugees - those who fled Palestine in 1948 or during subsequent wars. The refugees are hosted in 12 camps throughout the country, mostly on the outskirts or suburbs of Lebanon's main cities. Due to a myriad of historical and political circumstances, the refugee population of Lebanon is highly marginalized and the camps, which were created as temporary refuge for a displaced population, have become permanent neighborhoods, almost cities within themselves. Basic social, educational, health, and economic services for refugees are provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), while politics and security are left to the administration of the camps themselves. The quasi-autonomy and low cost of living in the generally impoverished refugee camps has led to the settlement of non-Palestinians who either cannot afford to live elsewhere or who seek a low-profile existence.
Beginning of the crisis
The Nahr El Bared camp near the northern city of Tripoli is home to roughly 30,000 people, Palestinian and non-Palestinian alike. In May of 2007, fighting broke out between a militant group residing in Nahr El Bared and the Lebanese Army. Eight weeks later, fighting is ongoing, and the death toll currently stands at over 200.
During the first two weeks of the conflict in the north, there were also a number of explosions in and around Beirut. The bombs occurred late in the evenings and did not appear to target people specifically, though there were two casualties, but rather symbolically targeted commercial centers. However, a member of parliament was assassinated by a car bomb during this time, adding to the list of political assassinations of the last couple of years. Though there have not been any further incidences in the last month, tensions in the country remain high.
Almost all residents of Nahr El Bared have fled, though reports say that many families remain inside, unable or unwilling to leave. The majority of the displaced have gone to the nearby Beddawi Camp, placing great strain on an already overcrowded population, as well as to other refugee camps in the country. The humanitarian situation within the Nahr El Bared camp is difficult to anticipate, though due to the fact that aid groups have not been allowed to enter, it can be assumed that anyone remaining inside is in dire need of basic provisions.
In the Beddawi camp, the population has nearly doubled, with displaced families being hosted in resident's homes (sometimes four families to an apartment) and in public schools. Lack of sufficient water is acute, magnified by the heat and humidity of summer weather, and basic necessities are minimal at best.
The humanitarian response was mobilized soon after the conflict began, with UNRWA, having the sole mandate for interventions with refugees, coordinating activities. ACTED began attending cluster meetings, both watsan and shelter, and due to previous and ongoing experience in both sectors, organized immediate activities to meet the increased water needs of residents and displaced families in Beddawi as well as intended activities to be implemented in Nahr El Bared upon cessation of hostilities.
Beginning June 4, ACTED has been implementing an UNRWA (and later UNICEF) funded water trucking and water testing intervention in and around the Beddawi camp, setting up an emergency supply of drinking water and filling public tanks at locations inside and outside the camp. In order to build capacity of the local population and ensure the most effective community cooperation, ACTED has thus far recruited and trained local volunteers. The volunteer teams are responsible for aiding the truck drivers in delivering water from the nearby source to all tanks, as well as testing water at multiple locations from source to household taps.
A further component of the project aims at raising awareness among the beneficiary population as to the availability and quality of the water being provided, and basic issues of water hygiene. A workshop was conducted by ACTED's heath officer for all volunteers and truck drivers in order to inform them of basic water hygiene practices. The volunteers then began testing water at the taps of individual households in order to reassure the beneficiaries that the water was indeed potable; these visits are also used as an opportunity to answer questions and inform the residents of water issues and safe practices.
Cooperation from the local community, the Beddawi Camp Scouts, and local Palestinian NGOs has greatly facilitated the implementation of this project. Initially, there were a number of coordination issues between humanitarian aid organizations and UNRWA, and there were many incidences of beneficiaries relocating public tanks for private use, however these problems are being solved as they are raised.
ACTED plans to continue water trucking and water testing activities for the displaced and host families as long as the emergency needs continue. Continuous needs assessments are conducted by the ACTED team in Tripoli, and activities are modified accordingly.
There is a comprehensive plan outlined by UNRWA to meet the emergency needs of the returning population of Nahr El Bared, once the camp has been deemed safe. However, as fighting continues, pictures released indicate that more and more of the camp is being destroyed, increasingly limiting the chances of return of the displaced population.
In coordination with two other international NGOs, ACTED has prepared an emergency shelter project to be funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Development which combines delivery of a quick-fix kit as well as identification of light repairs to be carried out immediately in order to make beneficiaries' homes habitable once again. However, the needs may change depending on the state of the camp once aid agencies and residents are allowed access. ACTED will continue attending cluster meetings and remain informed of the latest developments, and will be prepared to get involved in whatever capacity is possible, and needed.