Palestinian refugees living unofficial gatherings suffer ‘squalid’ conditions

13 Aug

Dalila Mahdawi

Daily Star Staff

BEIRUT: Fetid squatter toilets in bathrooms that open onto other rooms, drinking water contaminated with fecal matter and rusty zinc roofs protected from the elements by flimsy plastic sheeting: according to a new report, these features can be found at a number of Palestinian houses outside of Lebanon’s official refugee camps.

Between February and June of this year, the international non-governmental organizations Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Premiere Urgence (PU) carried out a comprehensive assessment of the living conditions of Palestinians residing in 42 so called “gatherings,” or neighborhoods consisting of 25 or more Palestinian houses.

The survey, funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department, is the first to employ a house to house methodology and provides the first truly comprehensive assessment of the state of housing and infrastructure in the neglected areas.

“The findings reveal that approximately 40,000 Palestinian refugees currently live in gatherings outside of the 12 official UNRWA camps,” said Julien Mulliez, Head of Mission for Premiere Urgence, referring to the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees. Previous estimates had put the figure at around 60,000. “Despite being registered refugees, residents of these gatherings are unable to access support from the agency to maintain their homes and ensure safe and adequate access to water and sanitation,” he added.

A total of 11 percent of the refugees living in the gatherings “inhabit shelters that threaten health and prevent social well being,” affecting 897 households and around 4,000 people, the report found. Many shelters had large cracks in the walls, unsafe rafters, or were without windows, internal bathrooms or kitchens.

Eight of the 39 gatherings assessed were found to suffer from “urgent” water and sanitation needs, while 12 others had “moderate” needs. “In those eight gatherings, the level of hygiene is very poor and bacteriological contamination of water was detected or was estimated very likely to occur soon given the critical condition of the water sources and networks.”

Several sewage systems were deemed outdated, damaged or insufficient to the area’s needs, putting residents at risk of drinking contaminated drinking water and contact with sewage. Drinking water was often found to be unchlorinated, forcing many residents to spend a disproportionate amount of their household income of buying bottled water.

“Many of these houses face chronic structural or weatherproofing problems as well as basic hygiene issues,” said Graziella Ito-Pellegri, a Shelter Advisor for NRC. “This means that many families face leakages in winter and intense heat in summer. Many buildings are at risk of collapsing and families are forced to live without running water or a kitchen.”

Basic standards could be easily improved through awareness and capacity building activities, “such as information sessions on water related hygiene and training for technicians in charge of the water treatment,” the report said.

Having identified key housing, water and sanitation needs in the gatherings, the NRC and PU hope the report will provide donors and other NGOs with ideas for new rehabilitation projects. “Additional funding is crucial to ensure that basic human rights are upheld in terms of shelter, water and sanitation” for the Palestinian refugees living in the gatherings,” Mulliez said.

Noting the fact that Palestinian refugees do not have the right to own land or property, the report recommended future initiatives to improve shelter or water and sanitation in the gatherings be tied to legal assistance projects. If the sufficient funds were gathered, the most crucial housing needs could be rectified within four years. “This report should be the basis for an intervention plan,” concluded the report. “If no concrete measures are taken [soon], the situation in the field will worsen and the refugees will be exposed to severe risks.”


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