UNICEF in emergencies

The humanitarian challenge in Lebanon

© Reuters/Karim
A Lebanese boy salvages a blanket from the rubble of a building wrecked by an overnight air raid on Beirut's southern suburbs.

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, USA, 9 August 2006 – Nearly a month into the conflict in the Middle East, the challenges faced by Lebanon’s civilian population are unrelenting while the delivery of emergency aid remains almost impossible.

The death toll in Lebanon now stands at 1,020, with more than 3,500 injured, since hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah commenced on 12 July. Most of these casualties are civilians; an estimated 30 per cent are children.

Delivering humanitarian assistance to the nearly 1 million people displaced by the conflict or trapped in remote areas is a daunting task due to continual fighting and the nearly complete destruction of transport infrastructure.

Convoys denied access

“Access to the southern part of the country has been almost shut off for the past 48 hours or so,” said UNICEF Communication Officer Simon Ingram in a telephone interview from Beirut, the Lebanese capital. “It has been extremely difficult to move convoys carrying UNICEF supplies and goods from other agencies to the south of the country.”

© IRIN/2006
Delivering emergency aid to civilians in Beirut and southern Lebanon is almost impossible due to continual fighting and the destruction of transport infrastructure.

Furthermore, the clearance necessary from the Israeli armed forces has not been forthcoming, said Mr. Ingram.

“About half of our convoys are being denied access, and those that are provided access or guaranteed access by the Israeli Defence Force occasionally have to come back because that access is revoked,” said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Dan Toole.

Mr. Toole added that there are currently no sea routes into Lebanon.

Some supplies delivered

But while the situation on the ground remains problematic, especially in southern Lebanon, UNICEF and its partners have managed to proceed with some relief activities.

A convoy of 11 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies – including two UNICEF trucks, each loaded with 10,000 litres of drinking water – managed to leave Beirut this morning destined for Saida. Also today, 2,000 hygiene kits from Syria are being moved into Lebanon.

And with an eye toward upgrading water and sanitation facilities, UNICEF has been surveying school buildings that are being used as shelters for thousands of families in Beirut.

© AP/Balilty
A Lebanese boy in the port city of Tyre stands next to coffins of people killed during an air raid in Qana.

Danger of unexploded munitions

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s alarming fuel shortage is hampering relief efforts.

“The fact that the country is now running down its last stocks of gasoline means that the stocks needed not only for the convoys, but also for vital institutions like hospitals, are very fast running out,” explained Mr. Ingram.

“This would mean that probably by the end of the week – unless the situation is resolved – provision of emergency care, operating theatres, incubators and cold storage for vaccines would no longer be functional in many hospitals across the country. This is an extremely worrying situation,” he added.

Unexploded munitions have become a problem as well, given that thousands of bombs have been dropped across Lebanon since the conflict began.

UNICEF is working with the Mine Action Awareness Steering Committee to inform the population about the danger of mines and unexploded ordnance. Efforts will focus on both displaced families who may return to their homes and families who have remained in conflict areas.

© Reuters/Bensemra
Israelis rush to a shelter during a Hezbollah rocket attack in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona. UNICEF is also supporting psychosocial workshops in Israel to help children cope with trauma.

Psychological welfare of children

With death and destruction becoming a feature of daily life for so many civilians, UNICEF has been monitoring the psychological welfare of children across the Middle East conflict zone.

“What we know is there are thousands of children who are deeply distressed by the events that they've seen, and that's true inside Israel and certainly true inside Lebanon,” said Mr. Toole. “What we need right now is to stop the fighting – we need to stop the rockets into Israel, we need to stop the fighting inside Lebanon.” 

To assist children from towns in northern Israel that have come under daily Hezbollah rocket fire, UNICEF is supporting psychosocial workshops under a special arrangement funded by a contribution from the Canadian National Committee for UNICEF.

In Lebanon, however, reaching people in need remains a huge problem. “We cannot provide humanitarian assistance while an active war is ongoing without absolute certainty of the protection of our staff and our convoys,” said Mr. Toole. “Right now, we do not have that.”




9 August 2006:
UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Dan Toole talks about the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
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9 August 2006: UNICEF Communication Officer  Simon Ingram describes the challenges facing UNICEF’s relief efforts in Lebanon.
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