UNHCR looks at broader needs as aid reaches Lebanese returnees
BEIRUT, Lebanon, September 4 (UNHCR) - With the distribution of emergency aid running smoothly, the UN refugee agency is discussing what assistance will be needed by remaining displaced Lebanese and their hosts as UNHCR moves from the humanitarian to the development phase of recovery.
UNHCR has sent teams to make contact with community-based non-governmental organisations and social centres associated with the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs. These have found many other problems than the need for shelter and blankets, which was the initial priority for the war victims.
"They are very important if we want to make sure that we reach the most vulnerable since they have been on the ground for a long time and they have a good understanding of what the needs are," Ditte Jensen, head of the UNHCR team in south Beirut, said of the organisations they have met.
"They were very open and interested to know how UNHCR was working. They told us that they liked the fact that UNHCR came to work with the line ministries and the local authorities and did not have preconceived ideas," Jensen added.
Thanks to information relayed by the three social centres in Beirut's Dahyeh district, UNHCR has begun delivering aid - blankets, sheets, mattresses, kitchen sets, diapers and soap - to 900 needy families identified in the neighbourhoods of Borj al Barajneh, Chia and Hay el Sellom.
But UNHCR is also looking at longer-term needs that Lebanese organisations are identifying, problems that have been exacerbated by a war which at one point displaced a million people and caused massive destruction to infrastructure and the economy.
"There are several well-off organisations and institutions," said Nadine Ayoub, of the Lebanese non-governmental organization (NGO), Mouvement Social. "They are focused mainly on reconstruction - but the needs are enormous in other sectors, particularly income generation."
Mouvement Social is running two successful programmes in Dahyeh, one dealing with juvenile delinquents and the other with vocational training. But a main concern among the displaced who have been unable to go home, said the organisation, is unemployment and the resulting lack of income.
Mouvement Social requested UNHCR's help to provide clothes, diapers and medicine for chronic diseases. They would also like assistance in schooling, which is a growing problem as classes reopen for the new term in an area that suffered from overcrowding even before the influx of more people magnified the problem.
Rabha Yassin, head of a social development centre in the Chouf mountains just outside Beirut, told UNHCR there was a great need for assistance for the remaining displaced and the villages that have provided them with shelter. She reported that one village alone had 143 handicapped people.
UNHCR aid to Lebanon envisages two distinct phases. In the current first phase, estimated to cost nearly US$19 million, the focus is on providing emergency items like shelter and other items to help displaced populations to go home. Remaining displaced individuals are identified and initial assistance provided.
But the efforts to establish a network of relationships with NGOs and government-associated social centres point toward the second phase of the UNHCR plan, which is the transition towards development programmes that will be the responsibility of other United Nations agencies.
This US$28.4 million early recovery phase will include providing rebuilding assistance to the returnees but also help for host families and protection activities that include monitoring the conditions of returnees and other social assistance.
"As social centres in direct contact with the communities, you are in the best position to identify and tell us what the priority is here, especially now that we are moving into the recovery phase," Carol El Sayed, a UNHCR community services officer based in Beirut, told representatives of several social centres meeting in offices of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
By Reem Alsalem in Beirut, Lebanon