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French Version

UNDP defends reconstruction strategy

A group of elderly men perched in white plastic chairs watched from a neighboring rubble heap as a bulldozer attacked the crumbling shell of one of the many bombed-out apartment complexes in Beirut's southern suburbs on Tuesday. Lately there have been many bulldozers in the Dahiyeh.

Some bear the cedar insignia of the Higher Relief Committee or the seal of one of the many international non-governmental organizations that have parachuted in to offer relief. Others sport the logo of Hizbullah's construction wing, Jihad al-Bina.

This particular rubble-clearance campaign is being funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as the first phase of a $20 million grant project to "empower" municipalities to "play their role in facilitating the internally displaced people's return, as well as conducting some primary reconstruction projects at the municipal level," according to a UNDP statement released on August 29.

Like many of the other reconstruction efforts - whether launched by the private sector, civil society, the Public Works Ministry, or one of the state's relief agencies - the UNDP insists it is working in coordination with the Lebanese government according to the agreement signed by the prime minister's office last month.

"The UNDP ensures collaboration between all reconstruction partners, municipalities, government and civil society," Mona Hammam, resident coordinator for the UNDP in Lebanon, told reporters at the Haret Hreik municipality on Tuesday.

She insisted that the UNDP's decision to give "early recovery" allocations directly to municipalities and not channel funds through state relief agencies does not reflect a lack of confidence in the government's ability to manage the reconstruction.

"The Lebanese government is very concerned with the issue of transparency. It is responsive to the Parliament and the municipalities have to defer to the Interior Ministry [regarding use of aid]. They make sure the government is accountable and the process transparent," she said.

Since the program began on August 21, the UNDP has given $800,000 in grants to remove debris and fix damaged roads - with amounts ranging from $2,000 to $25,000 depending on damage estimates - directly to the municipalities of Nabatiyeh, Marjayoun, Bint Jbeil, Tyre, and Baalbek, and $200,000 to four municipalities in the southern suburbs of Beirut. In the second round of allocations the program will expand its assistance to municipalities in Mount Lebanon.

Though the project manager on the UNDP program admitted the grants come without stipulations, he said each municipality must account for how funds are spent in a report.

"We are still in the early phase of recovery, but if we give $60,000 to Haret Hreik, this is 1 percent of all the rubble that needs to be cleaned up," Mohammad Mukalled told The Daily Star on Tuesday near one of the clearance sites in Dahiyeh.

"We don't deal with contractors at all. The UNDP gives the municipalities money, and they choose the company to clear it," he said.

Nor does the UNDP get involved in the clearance of debris, and Mukalled did not know who would dispose of Tuesday's load or how.

"I know Public Works is dumping it in the sea which is rather controversial," he said.

The municipal leaders of Ghobeiri, Shiyyah, Bourj al-Barajneh, and Haret Hreik all said it was imperative that the rubble be cleared within the next few months.

"When the rainy season comes, unexploded ordnance might be buried under rubble," Hizbullah MP Amin Sherri said from the tent that has become a makeshift party headquarters where Al-Manar television used to stand. "There were 48 straight hours of straight air strikes in this area," Sherri said as one of the nearby buildings collapsed and a mushroom cloud of dust rose in its place.

He said he looked forward to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's report on Israel's conduct in Lebanon at an upcoming summit in New York.

Beirut 13-09-2006
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star

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