Water, Healthcare and Education
Since its establishment in December 1949, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been the main provider of basic services in the 12 Palestinian camps in Lebanon.
Thanks to its extensive network of schools, basic education is provided free of charge for all registered refugees up to the age of 15. With 6% of Palestinian refugees in a situation of extreme vulnerability and without any source of income, UNRWA also provides them with food, housing assistance and manages several social centers dedicated to social action.
A network of primary care clinics has also been set up to meet basic needs, as well as subsidized and partial access to hospitalization. UNRWA also has a public health program to monitor drinking water quality and improve the sanitation system.
The agency plays a crucial role both in improving living conditions and in regulating and easing social and political tensions within the camps.
A recent influx of new refugees
The war in Syria has resulted in an influx of new refugees in camps across the country: Syrian and Palestinian refugees now represent a third of the population. This influx coincided with significant budgetary restrictions imposed on UNRWA, forcing the agency to drastically reduce the level of services provided to the Palestinian population.
The effects are already apparent: on the one hand, a rapid deterioration in health, education and living standards; on the other, rising social, political and religious tensions.
To support the Lebanese state in managing this humanitarian crisis, which could have ripple effects across the country, UNRWA and AFD have designed a program to improve living conditions and access to basic services.
Water tables under threat
The first priority is the renovation and extension of the water supply, and the treatment and disposal systems in the twelve camps: “We are witnessing tremendous pressure on the water tables which constitute 99% of the populations' water resources,” says Michel Samaha, head of mission at the Beirut office. “Ultimately there is a real danger of a shortage of drinking water.” In addition to overuse, resources are being wasted: ageing infrastructure and poor connections may account for losses in excess of 50%.
The first step will be to curb such loss, and to reduce another threat to the water supply: pollution. “This issue concerns all the water tables in Lebanon, but is even more critical in the Palestinian camps,” says Michel Samaha. It’s hoped that improved sanitation will help reduce environmental risks.
The project is also working to increase the number of households connected to wastewater systems by 25%.
Two new school complexes under construction
Many teens and children attend classes in prefabricated units and in some cases, ill-equipped and squalid premises. With an eye to improving students’ surroundings to give them a better education, two new school complexes are being built: one in Nahr-el-Bared, near Tripoli, and the other in Beirut, at the UNRWA headquarters.
“Each complex will have two schools, a primary and a secondary school, based on a trilingual educational model (Arabic, French, English)”, says Michel Samaha.
With a maximum capacity of 3,000 pupils, these two new educational complexes aim to improve the kids’ overall well-being and in time, their academic performance. In the long term, the trilingual education model should also boost the social and professional prospects of young Palestinians.
The four-year project implementation will be entirely led by UNRWA. AFD, for its part, is contributing €21 million to the financing of the operation through the Peace & Resilience Minka Fund.
The signing of the partnership agreement on October 17, 2019 was attended by a host of officials including: the Ambassador of France in Lebanon, Bruno Foucher; UNRWA Chief of Donor Relations, Marc Lassouaoui; the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, Claudio Cordone; AFD Regional Director of the Middle East, Olivier Ray; the Ambassador of Palestine, Ashraf Dabbour, as well as representatives of the Lebanese army, Palestinian NGOs, Palestinian Popular Committees and pupils from UNRWA schools.