Conflict Restricts Humanitarian Aid to Desperate Southern Lebanon
NEW YORK, New York, August 4, 2006 (ENS) - The United Nations is sending a joint emergency assessment team to the devastated port city of Tyre in south Lebanon today. Some 85,000 Tyre residents have fled as the Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon stretches over more than three weeks.
"Thousands of people have left Tyre, this city in the south that had become the hub for humanitarian activities in southern Lebanon," UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters at UN headquarters in New York. He said only about 15,000 people remain in Tyre out of the city's former population of more than 100,000.
Since the conflict began nearly three weeks ago, the United Nations estimates that more than 1.2 million people have been displaced - at least 900,000 people in Lebanon, and up to 300,000 on the Israeli side.
Of the more than 900,000 people who have been displaced in Lebanon since fighting between Hezbollah and Israel began on July 12, an estimated 45 percent are children, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today. Humanitarian access to many of them remains an enormous challenge.
"The situation is grave and deteriorating rather rapidly," said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Dan Toole, who visited the Middle East earlier this week. "Children are cut off. Families are cut off. Many, many people are without assistance, without food, without water."
Fawzi said UN agencies are continuing to provide assistance to those most in need but the ongoing conflict continues to restrict humanitarian access. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) had to postpone a convoy from Beirut to Jezzine until today because armored escort vehicles were not available.
Fawzi said the people from south Lebanon are fleeing north, either to Beirut or to Syria, where around 5,000 Lebanese are arriving daily, adding to a displaced population now estimated at 150,000.
In the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, the WFPís Goodwill Ambassador Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein and WFP Executive Director James Morris met with Lebanese refugees. On this, his first visit to Syria, Morris also met with government officials.
On Monday, the WFP started distributing food aid to nearly 7,000 Lebanese people who have taken refuge in Damascus over the last two weeks. WFP will distribute three tons of bread each day to the beneficiaries who are living in schools or abandoned public buildings.
Since the start of the crisis, nine WFP humanitarian convoys have made their way to south Lebanon from Beirut, supplying Tyre, Jezzine, Sidon, Qana and Tebnin.
But each convoy has to be approved by the Israeli Defense Force so they can travel in safety without being attacked. Wednesday two convoys were cancelled at the last minute.
In total, the WFP convoys have delivered some 280 metric tons of food, enough to feed 80,000 people for one week, in addition to other relief supplies for other UN agencies and a number of NGOs including Medicin Sans Frontiers and Mercy Corps. These supplies included medical kits, shelter materials and food.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping to transform an old railway depot in greater Beirut into a temporary shelter site for up to 1,000 displaced people, and the agency has distributed mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets in two Lebanese governorates.
On Thursday, teams began unloading an International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) ship that had arrived in the port of Tyre the day before with 100 metric tons of ready-to-eat meals, sleeping mats, blankets, water and sanitation equipment, jerrycans and baby food.
On Wednesday, an ICRC team proceeding from Tyre supplied 9,000 liters of fuel for the running of essential civilian infrastructure in Tibnin to the southeast of Tyre - the hospital, the Lebanese Red Cross dispensary and water pumps in Tibnin and surrounding villages. Water is one of the foremost concerns of people in the villages that the ICRC has been able to reach in the past few weeks.
The situation regarding fuel is critical across Lebanon. Almost all filling stations are closed because they have run out, and fuel supplies for power stations and water pumping stations are all but exhausted.
As part of its role as a humanitarian actor in Lebanon, WFP has successfully negotiated concurrence of safety from the Israeli Defence Force for two tankers to bring fuel into Beirut and Tripoli ports for the Lebanese government. One tanker is carrying 50,000 tons of fuel oil, and the other 37,000 tons of diesel oil.
The President of the Security Council for this month, Ambassador Nana Effah-Apenteng of Ghana, told reporters at a separate briefing at UN headquarters in New York that 25 percent of Lebanonís population of 3.8 million people has been displaced by the conflict. Starting today, he said, the 15 member Council will receive daily UN updates on the situation.
On July 24, the UN launched an appeal for $149 million in emergency assistance for Lebanon to cover the next three months worth of food, health care, water and sanitation, protection, and transportation of aid. But Ambassador Effah-Apenteng said few donors have responded.
"The flash appeal that was launched last week, the response has not been very encouraging, they have received only about 15 percent of the amount they expected," he said.
Fawzi said the World Health Organization (WHO) is "very concerned" about water and sanitation because of the risk of infectious diseases, noting that diarrhea has already been reported in one of the schools sheltering the displaced.
Separately, WHO warned Thursday that while medicines are essential to alleviate suffering and are a core element in the international relief efforts for Lebanon, inappropriate donations may cause more harm than good.
The Lebanese Ministry of Health and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have asked for medicines and supplies for chronic conditions and surgical interventions and while many of the international donations of these have been exactly what was needed, a senior agency doctor said expired medicines or products of uncertain quality waste valuable resources.
"Lebanon needs medicines, but it needs the right kind. Every box of medicines or other supplies donated has to be checked, sorted, stored and shipped to the right places," said Dr. Ala Alwan, representative of the WHO director-general for health action in crises.
WHO advises potential donors to contact the national health authorities to be updated on the latest needs, and to notify Lebanon of their donation to allow the country to plan for their receipt and use. Prospective donors may also contact WHO for technical advice.
"People need the right medicines quickly. We cannot afford to spend precious time sorting out the good from those of poor quality," said Dr. Alwan.
The UN Childrenís Fund (UNICEF) has provided emergency supplies and family packs with mattresses, blankets, buckets and soap to people made homeless by the bombardment of Qana, which killed dozens of people at the weekend, including many children.
Aid workers say a food crisis is looming in the south of Lebanon, where a severe shortage of water is prompting people to drink from animal ponds that are contaminated with bacteria.
Rmeish, which usually has 5,000 residents, is now hosting 25,000 inhabitants who have fled the fighting in surrounding areas.
"We ask all parties to this conflict to allow these convoys to move, otherwise we are going to see even more tragedy and more suffering than weíve seen so far," said WFP Emergency Coordinator Amer Daoudi.
On the Israeli side, Haifa Port has ceased loading and unloading until further notice. The Ports of Ashdod and Eilat are continuing cargo operations as usual.
Aliza Olmert, wife of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, toured northern Israel Wednesday. She visited daycare centers in Shlomi, where she met with parents and children who had taken shelter in its protected room due to the sirens and missile attacks. They watched a puppet show, the Prime Minister's Office said.
The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) was able to deliver 3,000 meals and hundreds of blankets and tarpaulins to the village of Hasbaya near Marjayoun in southern Lebanon on Wednesday. The same day, an ICRC ship filled with 110 tons of relief supplies docked at the port of Tyre.
The U.S. military is assisting in humanitarian operations and "have been integral in delivery of ... USAID emergency relief supplies," according to a report by USAID on Wednesday.
Approximately $20 million of the $30 million in aid money committed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will come from USAIDís Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.
American nongovernmental organizations on the ground in Lebanon include the American Friends Services Committee, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children USA, and World Vision, among others.
The ICRC, the World Health Organization, and the International Medical Corps are distributing U.S. medical supplies in Beirut and southern Lebanon. But they report that progress is slowed by ongoing hostilities and thousands of refugees jamming the roads.
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