Ain Al Hilweh camp, Sidon, Lebanon
There is no alternative: Palestinian refugees are rebuilding among the ruins of their war-devastated camps.
The first tents were being erected Nov. 2 on a bulldozed field in this sprawling camp for 15,000 Palestinians. So far, the weather has held, and relief officials are confident family shelters will be built before the winter rains begin later this month.
Setting up the tents is a clear sign that, in the absence of a decision on resettling the many-times-over refugees of southern Lebanon, they will go on living in battered camps. No one has a better idea. Although the tents are officially deemed temporary shelters, it is virtually certain that they will evolve into more permanent structures.
''I have no doubt that these are the foundations of their homes going in,'' a disaster-relief official in Sidon said as he pointed out the eight-foot by eight-foot sites. Cinder-block walls three feet high will serve to keep out the winter wind and rain, he said, ''and it won't be a surprise to see more permanent roofs put on those walls by next spring.''
As it is, almost everyone has some form of shelter already. Many are crowded in with relatives or are still in the schools and shelters to which they fled in early summer when the Israeli Army overran and smashed these camps.
''There are very, very few people who don't have a roof over their heads,'' says Dennis Brown, Sidon director for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). At Ain Al Hilweh, only 25 to 30 percent of the original structures are still standing.
Quick relocation of refugees into the new tent cities will help open the doors of Sidon-area schools to youngsters, Mr. Brown says. Of 11 area school buildings still standing, seven are being occupied by refugees, one is occupied by the Phalange, and only three are open for the current term. Three others were destroyed in the war, and one was taken back by the landlord.
Mr. Brown says that classes are conducted in shifts in the three buildings that are open. By moving refugees into the tents the other buildings can be used.
Life in the tent cities will not be easy, Mr. Brown says. Communal water taps and latrines are being installed. Families will be crowded six to a tent. Heaters will be issued, but Mr. Brown says a severe winter could be difficult for the tent dwellers.