|On the outskirts of the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre, displaced people sit with belongings in a car on their way back home.|
By Jane O'Brien
NEW YORK, USA, 14 August 2006 – Tens of thousands of Lebanese families are returning home, just hours after a ceasefire was agreed between Israel and Hezbollah. UNICEF estimates that some 6,000 people an hour are heading back towards the worst hit areas in the south of the country.
The biggest threat they now face comes from unexploded shells, and a campaign is under way to raise awareness of the dangers.
“We know that unexploded ordnance is a problem because of the amount of shelling that has taken place,” said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Dan Toole. “One person has already been killed and it’s a real threat to people returning home.”
Warning leaflets are being distributed to Lebanese refugees leaving Syria, along with kits containing high-energy biscuits, water and rehydration salts. Some 300 vehicles an hour are crossing the border, although roads remain damaged and some towns have been virtually cut off. Up to 60,000 refugees could return to Lebanon within the next two weeks.
Aid convoy en route to Tyre
According to UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Roberto Laurenti, the ceasefire was being greeted with optimism tempered by pragmatism. “The signs are positive and we hope it continues,” he said. “But we will be watching how the situation evolves over the next 48 hours.”
The first delivery of UN aid for several days is on its way to the southern port of Tyre, with 24 trucks carrying medical supplies and water and sanitation equipment. UNICEF is providing water, hygiene kits and 6,000 litres of diesel fuel for three hospitals in Tyre. Another convoy is expected to leave on Tuesday for Rmeish, where people have been isolated by the fighting.
With a measles and polio immunization campaign already in progress across Lebanon, UNICEF is revising its plans to deal with the rapidly changing situation. Almost half of those displaced by the conflict are children, and as they head home UNICEF will coordinate follow-up vaccination programmes.
14 August 2006:
UNICEF’s Simon Ingram on the latest from southern Lebanon.
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Lebanon launches polio campaign [with video]
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In Lebanon, back to school at last [with video]