Refugees International’s Statement for Donors’ Conference
For 32 days, the Israeli Defense Forces bombed Lebanon in a campaign aimed at weakening Hezbollah. During this campaign, many civilian areas were severely damaged and it was extremely difficult for humanitarian aid to reach the most vulnerable. More than 1,000 people died, mostly Lebanese civilians, a third of whom were children, and almost one quarter of the total population was displaced. Although the hostilities officially ended August 14th and many of the displaced rapidly returned home, civilians continue to suffer severely from the consequences of the war. In this context, Refugees International welcomes the donor governments’ interest in contributing to the relief and reconstruction efforts in Lebanon.
In addition to the physical destruction from the conflict, the air, sea, and land blockade has meant that the entire country has suffered the consequences of the war. Billions of investment dollars have been lost and every sector of the Lebanese economy is feeling the impact. While the donors’ conference will address many of these needs, Refugees International has identified three areas that demand immediate action. For any return process to be viable, these issues need to be addressed with the technical and financial support of the international community.
First, an estimated 250,000 persons still remain displaced – both inside Lebanon and in other countries. While the bulk of the displaced people returned immediately after the ceasefire, there are still those who remain displaced as well as others who upon returning found that they had to leave again. They are unable to return, either due to fear of discrimination or because there is nowhere for them to return. Many have lost their means of income so are dependent on humanitarian assistance. Others are elderly, handicapped, or have chronic diseases that require costly medicines. As the attention of the country turns to reconstruction, Refugees International reminds the international community that the displaced people of Lebanon need assistance now and will continue to need assistance for months.
Secondly, mines and un-exploded ordinance (UXOs), including cluster bombs, pose very serious threats to the safety of Lebanese civilians, particularly in the south of Lebanon. Since the ceasefire, UXOs have killed eleven people and wounded over forty – many of them children. Many in the south depend on agriculture for their income and their fields are unusable until they are cleared. Mine risk education is crucial for children and schools cannot reopen until they are cleared from UXOs. De-mining activities, which have already begun, must be fully funded by the donor community.
Third, political parties and wealthy individuals are playing a huge role in the reconstruction of Lebanon. The Hezbollah political party is currently compensating people who have lost their homes with cash, and prominent families in Lebanon have stated that they will rebuild individual bridges or roads. However, these efforts should not replace those of the national government or render them irrelevant. The government of Lebanon must immediately begin reconstruction efforts that benefit all people. The reconstruction must not only focus on individual homes and the country’s infrastructure but most importantly in livelihoods, as an estimated 70% of the workforce has been directly or indirectly affected by the conflict. Only a national government can establish strategies to tackle these problems in a comprehensive fashion. The government of Lebanon is still weak and this reconstruction effort will be enormous. All donors must support the government of Lebanon in its efforts to rebuild the south.
Thankfully, unlike some post-conflict countries, Lebanon is a country with working institutions and a very strong national capacity. This capacity, which is reflected through the work of its civil society, was evident in the response to the crisis which prevented it from becoming a humanitarian disaster. Throughout the war, the Lebanese were the ones who provided the vast majority of the aid. While an international presence is necessary to ensure neutrality, it is essential that the international community encourages the government of Lebanon to take the lead in all relief and reconstruction efforts throughout the next phase. Refugees International believes that the international community must work to strengthen the government of Lebanon and provide it with the resources it needs to address these challenges. Not only is there local capacity in Lebanon, it is fundamental for the government’s credibility and for regional stability that it affirms itself as a central authority capable of dealing with this crisis.
Refugees International also strongly encourages donors to coordinate their efforts to strengthen the government of Lebanon’s capacity by working with local civil society groups. As the Lebanese government remains weakened by internal tensions and political concerns, donors are encouraged to request the establishment of transparent accountability mechanisms to ensure that donated funds are well distributed.
Finally, Refugees International would like to remind donors that the political reality in Lebanon can not be ignored. Hezbollah is the most active organization in the relief and reconstruction efforts in Lebanon. Donors must find ways to adapt their regulations so as to allow international organizations and NGOs to coordinate their efforts with Hezbollah, a recognized political party in the Lebanese government. It is only through coordination and information sharing with all actors that we can insure that the most vulnerable Lebanese are assisted.