Nansen Award winners distribute cows to Lebanese farmers

News Stories, 22 December 2008

© UNHCR Lebanon
Bovine Business: A dairy farmer with some of the cows in Khiam village.

KHIAM, Lebanon, December 22 (UNHCR) The people of Khiam in southern Lebanon rely heavily on agriculture, especially dairy farming, to make a living. So the brief war that ravaged the south in 2006 was devastating, with many losing cattle and large tracts of land left off limits for months because of clusterbombs.

On Saturday, the winners of this year's Nansen Refugee Award arrived in the village with some welcome gifts six healthy cows. The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) hopes the animals will help stimulate the economic recovery of the village of 3,500 people from the damage caused by the conflict between Israeli troops and the Hezbollah militia.

The Nansen Award was given to the Lebanese and international mine clearers who worked for UNMACC in clearing southern Lebanese villages and agricultural land of more than 150,000 bomblets scattered by clusterbombs, allowing hundreds of thousands of displaced people to return home.

UNHCR's most prestigious annual prize also comes with US$100,000, provided by the Swiss and Norwegian government for use in assistance and protection projects for the displaced. UNMACC has chosen to use the money to help agricultural communities get back on their feet in Khiam and six other villages.

"It was clear to us that there was a need to assist farmers, who were the most affected because of the presence of cluster munitions on their land," said UNMACC spokeswoman, Dalia Farran. "We are giving them more than cows, we are giving them hope. We are also giving the villagers a sense of self-reliance."

Some 300 people will benefit from the cattle distribution project in the seven villages. In Khiam on Saturday, dairy farmers gathered eagerly at the municipality building for a draw to decide the new owners. All of them had lost cows, their sole source of income, during the war and many lacked the funds to replace them and had to find other work.

"During the war, I lost 16 cows. Only two calves survived the 33 days of conflict. My land was full of cluster munitions. I lost everything," Ali Abdo Khreiss, one of the lucky winners, said after the draw.

The loss off their main asset had a huge economic impact on the dairy farmers of Khiam, and this had a knock-on effect for the whole village. "Taking care of cows was a family business and it was a profitable sector. They were self-reliant and satisfied," said Nayef Khreis, a member of the municipality. "After the war, most of them had to work for corporate farms as daily workers."

But with dairy cows, people could live off the 20-25 kilogrammes of milk per day and make some money on top of that to live comfortably. "We live from the cow's milk, butter, and yogurt. We raise our kids from these dairy products," explained Mohamad, a father of four from a neighbouring village.

The UNMACC cattle distribution will be welcomed by the southern Lebanese, but a lot more needs to be done to help revive the agricultural sector in the area. "The agricultural sector remains neglected in south Lebanon," said Mohamad Zaher, who works for a local environmental agency that is implementing the UNMACC programme. He added that compensation had been paid to industries, but "those farmers were forgotten."

The Nansen Award is named after the Norwegian arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who was appointed in 1921 by the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, to be the very first High Commissioner for Refugees. The Award, consisting of a medal and the US$100,000 monetary prize, is given out yearly to a person or group for outstanding services in supporting refugee causes. Previous recipients include Eleanor Roosevelt, Médecins Sans Frontières, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Luciano Pavarotti and Graça Machel.

By Laure Chedrawi in Khiam, Lebanon

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The Nansen Refugee Award

The Nansen Refugee Award

Given to individuals or organizations for outstanding service in the cause of refugees.

Nansen Biography

Fridtjof Nansen was a scientist, polar explorer, diplomat, statesman and humanist, with a deep compassion for his fellow human beings. In 1921 Nansen was appointed the League of Nations' first High Commissioner for Refugees and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year in recognition of his work for refugees. UNHCR established the Nansen Refugee Award in his honour in 1954.

Nansen Biography

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

UNHCR's annual Nansen Refugee Award was posthumously awarded to Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony in Washington DC on October 29 for his life-long commitment to refugee rights. Kennedy's wife, Victoria, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. In presenting the award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, praised the "vision and commitment" of Senator Kennedy in his support for the displaced.

The prize money of US$100,000 will be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy. The Nansen Award is given to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the first global High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

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Singer, songwriter, campaigner, activist, and UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Annie Lennox, OBE will perform at this year's United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Nansen Refugee Award being held in Geneva on October 1st and broadcast internationally.

The line-up, which also includes classical singer and UNHCR Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks, Swiss star Bastian Baker and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Madam Leymah Gbowee, will pay tribute to this year's Nansen Refugee Award laureate.

TV presenter Isabelle Kumar will be the Master of Ceremonies on 1st October. The winner of this year's Nansen Refugee Award will be announced in advance of the award ceremony at 10:30 am on September 18 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

2012 Nansen artists line-up

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