|At the Masnaa crossing in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, a family fleeing to Syria crosses through a debris-strewn crater in the road.|
By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 4 August 2006 – Air strikes in northern Lebanon have destroyed the country’s last road links to the outside world, severely restricting humanitarian access.
The border crossing at the Mediterranean town of Arida was the only remaining overland access point to Lebanon from Syria. The road had been used to deliver emergency supplies for thousands of children and families displaced by the conflict in Beirut and southern Lebanon. More supply convoys were scheduled to use the highway in coming days.
Now, four bridges have been destroyed at various points along that route. This development is expected to have a major impact on the ability of relief agencies to respond to the crisis.
|© UNICEF Lebanon/2006/Debbas|
|Fifteen-month-old Jad receives a measles vaccination at a camp for displaced people in central Beirut.|
Immunization campaign disrupted
Meanwhile, air strikes in Beirut have hampered an ongoing measles immunization and vitamin A supplementation campaign in the capital. Three out of five non-governmental organizations supporting the campaign have been unable to take part due to the latest violence, which is also preventing many Lebanese civilians from venturing outside with their children.
The immunization drive – administered by Lebanon’s Ministry of Health with the support of UNICEF, the World Health Organization and NGO partners – has initially focused on 18,000 displaced children living in crowded and often unsanitary conditions in camps around Beirut.
The campaign has been providing injectable measles vaccine to children up to the age of 15. Younger children – age 5 and under – have also been receiving polio vaccine drops and vitamin A supplements to boost their immune systems.
“Our bigger concern is measles, because we’ve had cases of measles in Lebanon before,” said UNICEF Assistant Health Officer Dr. Nejib Nimah. “It’s very important to vaccinate every child, because that child might move to another centre and might carry the illness with him before it is caught.”
|Displaced Lebanese children receive humanitarian aid from the Red Cross at a temporary shelter inside a school in the southern port city of Tyre.|
Toll on lives and infrastructure
As aid workers pursue efforts to reach children at risk, the precarious fuel situation across Lebanon poses an additional challenge. UNICEF currently has only about three days’ supply of fuel left to carry out its relief operations.
More than three weeks after the hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel began, over 900,000 people in Lebanon – or about of quarter of the population – have been displaced. UNICEF estimates that 45 per cent of them are children.
Some 860 people in the country have died, and over 3,000 have been injured. In Israel, another 55 people have died and more than 200 have been injured.
Aside from the tragic toll on civilians, the conflict has severely damaged Lebanon’s infrastructure.
“At this stage it’s very difficult to give a realistic assessment of the damage,” said UNICEF Senior Advisor for Emergencies Paul Sherlock, just returned from a three-day mission to southern Lebanon. “Some of the villages we visited during the day were further bombed when we came back, so this crisis is not over. But there is going to be clearly an enormous amount of work to do when this is over.”
As of now, UNICEF’s humanitarian appeal for the relief effort in Lebanon remains underfunded. While governments have made numerous pledges, less than a fifth of the total appeal has been received to date.
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