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LEBANON: Reconstruction effort begins

BEIRUT, The President of the Lebanese Government's Council for Development and Reconstruction, Nabil Jisr, says the country would be rebuilt to a higher standard than before 34 days of conflict with Israel.

The Israelis did not miss anything, from schools to clinics to bridges to roads," Jisr, who is also an adviser to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, told IRIN on Thursday.

After Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers on 12 July, Israel launched a military offensive, destroying more than 15,000 houses, 900 businesses and factories, 630 roads, 77 bridges, 25 fuel stations and 31 utility plants, according to the Higher Relief Council (HRC), a government body set up to manage relief efforts during the crisis.

Analysts have estimated that the damage done to Lebanon's overall infrastructure could be anywhere between US $3 billion and $15 billion. Jisr said the government was reluctant to release any figures until a full assessment had been completed.

"We don't want to come up with something that first is not professional and second is not accurate," Jisr said. "This is why until now the government has not given a figure."

Jisr estimates that immediate humanitarian needs will be met in mid-to-end-October. The second part of the plan, which has already started, involves restoring the water and electricity systems.

One of the main concerns now is the distribution of fuel and power, he said. With Lebanon's biggest power plant bombed on 13 and 15 July, and an ongoing air and naval blockade, the country has suffered shortages of fuel throughout the conflict.

Now, however, Israel has permitted fuel supplies to be brought in. "We have received enough fuel but we have to put up a temporary storage facility in Jiyeh [the bombed power station] to reconnect it to the grid," said Jisr, adding that Lebanon had to negotiate with Israeli authorities over all essential supplies.

"We have two major issues," Jisr added. "The airport and the ports. The airport is psychological, the ports are for the economic recovery, for the wheel of the economy to start turning."

Another concern has been rehousing the displaced. At the height of the conflict, more than 700,000 people were internally displaced in Lebanon, with a further 250,000 having fled the country altogether, according to the HRC.

Now, most people have either returned home or found alternative accommodation. The HRC says only 3,000 displaced remain in public shelters, mostly schools.

"We decided schools will reopen on the ninth of October, a week or 10 days' delay - which is nothing," said Jisr. "We have to recondition these places, paint them and fix them and so on. And in the south we have to determine whether to rent buildings or whether we establish prefab schools and prefab clinics."

The Lebanese are a resilient people who bounce back from conflicts very quickly, Jisr said. "Our main concern is to try to establish as much as possible that normal life patterns return ... After several wars, we are not quitters," said Jisr. "We will rebuild and we will try to make it even better."

Courtesy: Reuters Net



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