A response to the needs and priorities of Host Communities in Arsal
In order to better understand the needs of the village of Arsal, the United Nations Development Programme in partnership with the Embassy of Mexico and UNHCR organized a visit to the area on July 10 2014. The delegation included UN Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Ross Mountain, UNDP country Director Mr. Luca Renda, the Ambassador of Mexico in Lebanon Mr. Jaime Garcia Amaral, Representative for the Minister of Social Affairs Mr. Adib Nehmeh, UNHCR Acting Deputy representative Mr. Jean Nicolas Beuze and representatives from UNOCHA.
The delegation met with the head of Arsal Municipality Mr. Ali al Houjairi and other municipality members to discuss the needs and priorities of the area. “ We are thankful for the visit and support of the Mexican embassy and UN agencies, and in our current situation, our priorities lie in providing a health care center with the latest medical equipment and creating a reliable sewage network and solid waste system,” said Houjairi. He also added that having playgrounds and leisure facilities would be considered a luxury in light of the huge burden they are facing due to the number of refugees which have reached 85,000 in addition to the 40,000 local citizens in the area of Arsal. The representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Mexican government and UN agencies all agreed on the importance of supporting host communities in general and specifically in the village of Arsal who has been burdened by the high influx of Syrian refugees.
The next step included a visit to “Arsal Public High school” and the “First Intermediate School” where the delegation was able to have a better view of the conditions of the classrooms and hygiene facilities. Around 459 students including Syrian children benefit from the education provided at the Arsal Public High School.
“This is a very important visit,” said Mr. Amaral, “because Mexico will collaborate with the UN agencies and provide contributions to assist host communities in Lebanon who are affected by the Syrian Crisis. A good job has been done so far and more will come.”
As for Mr. Mountain, he stressed the fact that the area of Arsal exemplifies the pressure which the communities are withstanding due to the Syrian crisis, “It is important to not only support the refugees but also the communities that are bearing the brunt of this pressure especially that the number of refugees has reached twice the number of locals in Arsal.”
The delegation then visited the tented settlement in Babine called “Abnaa Al Shouhadaa” where they observed the situation and living conditions of the Syrian Refugees.
Mr. Renda expressed his gratitude as UNDP for the contribution which is provided by the Mexican government and said, “This contribution will allow both UNDP and UNHCR to undertake interventions that will help the communities in the area of education and health particularly especially in Arsal where the situation is not easy.”
As for Mr. Nehmeh, he stressed on the partnership of the Ministry of Social Affairs with the UN agencies and embassies in dealing with the issue at hand, “we plan to respond in the best way possible to the Syrian crisis and even with modest resources, we try our best to make the life of Syrian refugees better and our focus is on developmental approaches and empowerment of the people.”
Mr. Beuze, mentioned the importance of collaborating with UNDP and the government, “our collaboration will help allocate resources to alleviate the burden on the refugee community in Arsal and especially on children, we plan on helping Syrian children access the schools and benefit from a good education and peaceful environment.”
It is worth mentioning that Arsal, which lies not far from the border area, is home to a population of some 60,000 people, including – already prior to the latest influx – 85,000 Syrian Refugees is suffering from lack of equipped health centers and hospitals, although the village itself contains several health centers but they only provide basic day-to-day health services and urgent cases are being transported 70 km to the nearest hospital. It also suffers from poor infrastructure, and lack of heating and cooling systems at schools.