UN Appeals for $150 Million, Humanitarian Corridors for Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 24, 2006 (ENS) - As the death toll in Lebanon mounts over 350, and the number of displaced people reaches 700,000, many of them children, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland today launched a Flash Appeal for US$150 million to meet humanitarian needs over the next three months.

Egeland is asking Israel to establish humanitarian corridors of safe passage into and out of Lebanon for aid workers and supplies. He will press his formal request to the Israeli government for a guarantee of humanitarian corridors with a visit to Jerusalem Tuesday.

Lebanon is under an Israeli military blockade, imposed by land, sea and air. It is now impossible for UN agencies and their humanitarian partners to reach any part of southern Lebanon to assess needs or to deliver assistance.

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United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland discusses the conflict in Lebanon with the UN Security Council. July 21, 2006. (Photo courtesy UN)
Touring the devastation of Beirut today, Egeland said half a million people are now in need of help which cannot reach them because of the Israeli bombardment.

"There's no military solution to these things, there's only a political solution," he said. "In the next few days, the UN will have a large trucking fleet come into the country. We will have boats calling up the ports with regular supplies for the civilian population, but we need access. We do not have free access at the moment."

He said the "disproportionate response" by Israel was a "violation of international humanitarian law."

Bombardment by the Israeli Defence Force has caused widespread damage to bridges and roads, hospitals, schools, residential housing, electricity plants, airports and seaports in southern Lebanon, and the UN agencies warn that fuel shortages are looming. Three main hospitals in southern suburbs of Beirut were not operating today, said the World Health Organization (WHO).

While in Lebanon, Egeland is expected to meet with senior members of the Lebanese government and with the newly established High Relief Council, as well as with the UN country team and other UN representatives.

Egeland then plans to visit Jerusalem to meet with senior members of the Israeli government and representatives of the Israeli Defence Forces, as well as with the UN country team.

His major goal is to reduce unnecessary suffering and death by ensuring access to health care for all, with a special focus on the most vulnerable - pregnant and lactating women, children, the elderly and the chronically-ill people, and the injured. Without secure humanitarian corridors, this is not possible.

Later in the week, Egeland hopes to visit Gaza where he told the UN Security Council the situation remains as "critical as ever." In Gaza, he plans to meet with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and others involved in humanitarian relief.

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The Lebanese Red Cross rescues an injured boy. (Photo courtesy Lebanese Red Cross)
WHO estimates that more than 350 Lebanese have been killed and more than 1,000 injured. An estimated 34 Israelis have been killed and 200 wounded.

An estimated 700,000 people have fled their homes, including some 150,000 people who have crossed the border into Syria.

Egeland said more than a third of the total number of displaced people are children.

"I and my colleagues have consistently called upon all parties in the conflict to live up to their obligations under international humanitarian law and grant access to humanitarian workers and relief items to those most affected by the hostilities," he said.

"Killing and maiming, the denial of humanitarian access for children as well as attacks on schools and hospitals are considered grave violations of childrenís rights by the Security Council," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN special representative for children and armed conflict, expressing deep concern for the situation in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for the humanitarian corridors on Thursday in a briefing to the UN Security Council in New York.

"The Lebanese people, who had hoped that their countryís dark days were behind them, have been brutally dragged back into war," said Annan.

"The Israeli people, who had hoped that Israelís withdrawal from Lebanon - certified by this Council six years ago - would bring security along their northern border, find themselves under constant Hizbollah rocket attacks, which every day reach further into Israeli territory."

The conflict also has affected more than 100,000 people from 20 different countries who had been living in Lebanon, a large number of whom require assistance to evacuate.

With the crisis escalating, the UN World Food Program (WFP) says that hundreds of thousands of displaced people are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain food and other essentials.

"Damage to roads and bridges has almost completely disrupted the food supply chain, hurting large numbers of the displaced," said Amer Daoudi, the leader of a WFP assessment team now in Beirut.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is monitoring countries surrounding Lebanon for refugee outflows and assessing needs of those displaced within Lebanon, while stockpiling goods in Jordon and Syria.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has started using tankers to supply clean drinking water to public buildings housing internally displaced persons. The agency is also providing water purification systems, soap and oral rehydration salts with plans to send two planes of relief items to Beirut over the weekend.

The UN World Food Programme estimates sufficient food supplies in Lebanon for up to three months, but has concerns about disruptions to food supply chains, as well as safety of relief convoys.

Emergency staff from WHO are undertaking health assessments and monitoring health threats. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are delivering lifesaving assistance to populations with critical needs in Lebanon.

Prices for basic supplies are skyrocketing. The price of sugar has risen by 600 percent, and cooking gas by 400 percent, making coping very difficult for internally displaced persons, people under siege, the elderly, and families already living below the poverty line.

Economic life has come to a complete standstill with the extreme level of destruction to the basic infrastructure posing a major obstacle to a quick recovery.

The longer the hostilities last, the more dramatic the humanitarian situation will become, the UN agencies warn.

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Israeli Defence Forces bombard southern Lebanon. July 12, 2006. (Photo courtesy CGGL)
"The urgent cessation of hostilities, as called for by the Secretary-General, is thus the best way to prevent the humanitarian emergency in Lebanon from spiralling out of control," they emphasized in a statement today.

Urging the Israeli Defence Force to meet their responsibilities under international humanitarian law, the UN agencies said implementation of the assistance and protection activities outlined in the Flash Appeal is "fully dependent on safe and unimpeded passage for humanitarian staff and goods."

In addition to providing vital food assistance, on behalf of the UN agencies working in Lebanon, World Food Programme personnel on the ground have the lead role in coordinating logistics and telecommunications in support of staff safety.

"We ask all parties to the conflict to respect the neutrality and impartiality of aid workers and to allow unfettered access to all areas, to allow us to reach these very needy people as quickly as possible," said Naila Sabra, WFPís regional director for the Middle East and Central Asia.

If the security situation continues to deteriorate, many more people will leave their homes and need humanitarian assistance, Sabra said.

Humanitarian agencies have started a build-up of emergency coordination systems, virtually from scratch in close cooperation with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

In addition to the UN Flash Appeal, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is launching a preliminary appeal for US$1 million to assist people fleeing hostilities in Lebanon. The funds will be used initially to assist some 50,000 people over the next three months and to replenish stocks of emergency items distributed to the thousands of evacuees and other affected populations, such as host families.

"We are closely monitoring the situation and expect to revise the appeal, as we receive more detailed results of ongoing assessments," says Iain Logan, of the Federationís Middle East North Africa Department. "It is imperative that people fleeing the hostilities should have access to basic necessities, health care and safe haven."

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Israeli troops on a road near the Israeli-Lebanese border. (Photo courtesy CGGL)
A Regional Task Force for Deconflicting and Notification with the Israeli authorities has been established, contingency plans have been updated, and a Joint Logistics Centre is planned, the UN agencies said.

These efforts are undertaken in close collaboration with and in support of the Lebanese government and its Higher Relief Council, the main coordinating body for the current humanitarian crisis.

The government of Lebanon issued a list of emergency needs such as medications for diarrhea, chronic diseases, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory agents, painkillers and supplies such as Intravenous fluids, chlorine, surgical gloves, dialysis filters and medical refrigerators.

In addition to the humanitarian response inside Lebanon, the government of Syria and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society have taken a lead role in registering, accommodating and assisting the most vulnerable of the people displaced there from Lebanon.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent says that it expects another 15,000 refugees over the next couple of weeks. The organization and the Syrian government say their resources and capacity soon will be exhausted and they have welcomed the support of the UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

Syria is a strategic transit point not only for those fleeing Lebanon to other countries in the region and beyond, but also for the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Lebanon, the UN agencies say. Their response in Syria will focus on supporting the provision of protection and assistance to all vulnerable populations fleeing the crisis.

The Lebanese Red Cross is one of the only organizations that is still able to evacuate the wounded and civilians under fire, says the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Though it is operational in various places in southern Lebanon, its range of action remains very limited because of the situation. Rescue teams reported several security incidents involving ambulances and relief convoys over the past several days.

On Friday, an initial ICRC convoy that left Beirut in ths morning, reached Tyre, in southern Lebanon, after six hours on the road. The 24 tons of food and other emergency items it was carrying will be distributed to 4,000 civilians in and around the city.

The convoy is the first result of the ICRC's negotiations with the Israeli authorities for access to the conflict area and it followed an agreed route designed to ensure its protection. The convoy was clearly marked with the red cross emblem.