Humanitarian Agencies Marshal Support for Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 18, 2006 (ENS) - With access to medical care, water, sanitation and other heath necessities in Lebanon severely limited by Israeli attacks, United Nations humanitarian agencies have stepped up preparations for a coordinated, regional response to the crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.

"Access to health care for injured and patients with chronic conditions is a major concern," according to WHO’s first situation report from the country since Israel’s reaction to a July 12 cross-border Hizbollah attack.

In addition, the world health agency said that impaired power supplies have limited water and sanitation services, and that food, shelter and health services must be ensured for the displaced population.

The number of people displaced countrywide due to ongoing Israeli attacks has been estimated by the government at 65,000, with most seeking shelter in Beirut and in the north of the country, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - Integrated Regional Information Networks.

Beirut

Beirut residents flee the destruction after six days of Israeli bombardment. (Photo courtesy Matthew Good)
"The last update we have from the authorities suggests 65,000 people could be displaced," said Hicham Hassan, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Beirut. "But thousands of people are on the move to other areas and it’s difficult to track."

"It’s now a more difficult situation because bombing has increased and there’s little information available," said Hassan. "People are stranded and villages in the south are isolated from one another and the rest of the country."

As assessments are conducted in all these areas, WHO said it is assisting local health services in Lebanon, to ensure continued access, while the health program of the UN Works and Relief Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) plans to support them with cars, supplies and other logistical infrastructure.

Initial steps have also been taken to step up regional interagency response involving WHO, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and other agencies.

In the event they are needed, UNICEF has prepared emergency health kits, family hygiene kits and water tanks, water purification material, generators and fuel to be sent to Lebanon, while WFP has made available 25,000 tons of biscuits for the displaced population, WHO said.

In a situation report, UNICEF said today that the humanitarian situation in Lebanon is rapidly deteriorating.

The conflict is estimated to have killed over 200 Lebanese civilians and wounded more than 400 – approximately 30 percent of whom are children. It has destroyed airports, roads, power plants, bridges, and fuel stations, disrupting the delivery of vital social services.

UNICEF estimates that 400,000 people are believed to have fled their homes. Most of them have sought refuge with families and friends living in safer areas, but up to 40,000 are believed to have taken shelter in unused school buildings. Seventy schools have been occupied at the time of this report, and the UN agency says these figures are likely to increase in the coming days and weeks.

"The country is increasingly being put in a state of complete isolation, with access being denied through air, sea and land – except for a few by-pass roads towards Syria. Military activity has cut off territories and villages in the south, making access between them or to other parts of the country impossible. This compounds the security and logistical challenges of assessing humanitarian needs and providing assistance to vulnerable populations," UNICEF says.

Beirut

Destruction in Beirut after Israeli bombardment has displaced thousands of people. (Photo courtesy Matthew Good)
UNICEF is asking for donations of US$7.3 million to cover their immediate needs over the coming four months through November 18, 2006. Of this sum, the largest amount, US$2.9 million will be needed for water and sanitation, US$ 2.4 million for health and nutrition, while the remainder will be spent for security and logistics, psycho-social, education, telecommunications and administrative needs.

UNICEF proposes to carry out a package of water, sanitation and hygiene emergency measures that include initial tankering of water and setting up of water storage for centers of displacement, as well as water distribution points for isolated areas, where possible.

UNICEF will attempt to provide family water and hygiene kits, sanitation facilities at centers of displacement – toilets, bathing and washing areas - and chlorine for additional water treatment facilities.

A limited number of generators and fuel in displacement centers and support for the assessment of damage to water and sanitation infrastructure will also be provided.

The Beirut-based Popular Aid for Relief and Development urged both the local and international communities to help contribute to the relief effort. "All types of assistance are needed - medical aid, food parcels, mattresses and blankets and cooking kits, as well as milk for children," Director Rita Hamden told IRIN. "If the situation continues," she added, "they’ll need clothes too."

Some 500 families, are in the city of Sidon, living in some 10 schools, said Hamden. "We have distributed sanitation kits for them to be able to bathe and clean rooms as prevention for disease."

The Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) has mobilized more than 2,400 emergency rescue and first aid volunteers, and about 200 ambulances to evacuate and provide emergency relief to people wounded or displaced by the bombings. LRC medical staff have treated hundreds of wounded over the past four days.