Over the past several months, instability and flash crises – from bombing incidents throughout the country to conflict and resulting displacement in Palestinian refugee camps in the north – have brought a renewed sense of insecurity and anxiety for Lebanon’s children.
Last year’s 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel began on July 12, 2006 and plunged Lebanon into a sudden and intense humanitarian emergency. The conflict killed more than 1,100 people in Lebanon, injured more than 4,000 and forced 900,000 to flee their homes in the south of the country, according to the government of Lebanon.
“We can see visible signs of recovery from the 2006 conflict, such as the rebuilding of water reservoirs and children completing their school year,” said Roberto Laurenti, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon. “But as we are assessing what has been accomplished and what remains to be done, it is critical to remember that children are still bearing invisible scars. Emotional recovery takes much longer than rebuilding a bridge, and in a country in chronic crisis, this will be a long-term, ongoing process."
Thousands of children were affected by the emergency, and UNICEF, in partnership with the Lebanese Red Cross, responded rapidly to reach families trapped in the south as well as those who had fled their villages. Keeping children healthy was the priority, including providing safe drinking water, emergency health and hygiene kits, and essential pediatric medicines, measles and polio vaccinations.
As families rushed back to their villages immediately following the ceasefire on August 14, UNICEF quickly distributed bottles of water and leaflets carrying warning signs about a major threat that still awaited them – one million unexploded cluster bomblets lying in homes, fields and roads. In addition, billboards, television and radio spots provided information to parents about the signs of distress their children may exhibit after the conflict.
After the return, UNICEF expanded its network of partners in the affected areas to meet the immense needs of the returnees. The humanitarian focus moved from emergency relief operations to ongoing recovery in the key areas of water, sanitation and hygiene, health, education and protection of children and youth. Some key achievements in these priority areas have included:
• Reconstructing, repairing or extending 37 municipal water supply systems to benefit more than 300,000 people;
• Improving water quality and safety through chlorination systems for 22 villages in the south;
• Vaccinating more than 300,000 children throughout Lebanon against polio in case they had missed routine immunization during the disruption to health services during the war;
• Supporting Lebanon’s National Back-to-School campaign to minimize the delay in the start of the school year after the conflict, providing essential learning materials to 400,000 students in 1,400 schools;
• Producing materials and supporting trainers to teach children throughout the affected areas about the dangers of unexploded cluster bomblets;
• Supporting specialized training of teachers and social workers on working with children affected by conflict or crisis;
• Creating child-friendly spaces and mobile outreach teams, providing recreation supplies and training more than 600 animators to help children recover from distress through the self-expression and sense of normalcy fostered by drawing, sports, and play;
• Supporting youth information centres promoting alternatives to violence through dialogue and skills training.
Over the coming months, UNICEF and its partners will build upon its emergency recovery response to further develop ongoing infrastructure for the wellbeing of children not only in conflict-affected southern Lebanon, but throughout the country. Key next steps include:
• Continued efforts to improve water quality in villages;
• Enhancing the quality of education, health promotion and psychosocial support in public schools, as well as reduce high-school drop out rates in disadvantaged areas;
• Strengthening the primary health care system – including routine immunization – to ensure families in all villages are reached;
• Continue to support community-based recreation programs to further the emotional recovery of children and youth and build their skills to cope with ongoing national tensions. Develop the ability of locally-based volunteers and NGOs to carry on programming in the long-term;
• Foster peace and tolerance by providing opportunities for children and youth to interact with peers from different religious, political and social backgrounds;
• Expand the Sawtna youth-produced television series jointly produced by UNICEF and LBCI (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International). Literally translated as “Our Voice”, Sawtna provides a vehicle for youth to investigate issues important to them and produce reports for broadcast not only across Lebanon, but also internationally via satellite.
“The war turned the lives of thousands of children upside down,” said Laurenti. “Their resilience is remarkable, and we know that children are on the road to recovery. However, children throughout Lebanon now live their lives under the constant shadow of political instability, and all of us – from humanitarian organizations to families, from the private sector to government decision-makers – need to keep children’s wellbeing in the forefront of our minds. Together we are responsible for their road to the future.”
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
For further information, please contact:
Nicole Ireland, UNICEF Lebanon Country Office, Cell: +961 70 908 368, email@example.com
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF Media New York, +2123267426, firstname.lastname@example.org
Veronique Taveau, UNICEF Media Geneva, Tel: +41 22 909 5716, email@example.com
11 July 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Natacha Ikoli tracks progress and challenges facing children one year after the war between Hezbollah and Israel began. Nicole Ireland reported for this video from Lebanon.
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