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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Protecting the health and well-being of children displaced by conflict in Lebanon

UNICEF Image: Emergencies, Lebanon
© Reuters/ Stapleton
A woman cries with her child in Bent Jbail, southern Lebanon, after evacuating the village of Aitaron as a result of continued bombing.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, USA, 3 August 2006 – UNICEF has launched a measles immunization campaign in Lebanon to protect the health of tens of thousands of children forced from their homes by the conflict there.

Of the more than 900,000 people who have been displaced in Lebanon since fighting between Hezbollah and Israel began on 12 July, an estimated 45 per cent are children. Humanitarian access to many of them remains a major challenge for UNICEF and its partners.

“The situation is grave and deteriorating rather rapidly,” said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Dan Toole, who visited the Middle East earlier this week. “Children are cut off. Families are cut off. Many, many people are without assistance, without food, without water.”

Mr. Toole also echoed UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman’s 30 July statement supporting a cessation of hostilities. He went on to describe a “desperate situation” in which more than 250 children are thought to have been killed and many more are at risk – not only of violence but also of illness and disease.

“Inside Lebanon we have a relatively healthy population,” he said, “but it can quickly change, particularly when people live in tight surroundings and crowded places. So health is a key intervention.”

UNICEF Image: Emergencies, Lebanon
© AP/Frayer
Residents of the southern Lebanese village of Aitaroun walk through rubble as they flee their homes during a lull in shelling.

From vaccines to volleyballs

To help ensure child health under these difficult circumstances, 18,000 children between 9 months and 15 years of age will receive the measles vaccine during the campaign in Beirut this week. Another 55,000 will be targeted in a nationwide campaign next week. Health workers will also give out vitamin A supplements to boost children’s immunity.

At the same time, there is an urgent need for safe drinking water in the conflict zone. As the lead UN agency for water and sanitation in Lebanon, UNICEF is providing water bladders and water trucking capacity. So far, 48 water tanks have been delivered to the Beirut area.

UNICEF is also providing recreation kits for children so their psychosocial needs can be assessed in the midst of continuing hostilities.

“One of the best things we can do is give them recreational materials, games, toys, footballs, volleyballs, etcetera,” said Mr. Toole. “When they start to play, we can see which children are distressed or frightened and which children may need more specific attention or counselling. It’s a process of separating out those children and providing them with the support they need.”

© UNICEF /2006/Molinaro
UNICEF boxes containing emergency supplies are loaded onto a UN convoy bound for Tyre, Lebanon.

Dangers of supply transport

The conflict is making the delivery of humanitarian relief difficult and dangerous, and there is little access to hard-hit areas in southern Lebanon, according to Mr. Toole.

“Each convoy has to be approved by the Israeli Defense Force so that we can get down to those areas in safety without being attacked ourselves, which takes time,” he said. “Yesterday, for example, we had two of our convoys cancelled at the last minute and only got one convoy down to the south. So it is very difficult to get supplies to the people who need them.”

Mr. Toole added that UNICEF is appealing to donor countries for financial support.

“So far we have a lot of promises of funding and very little cash,” he said. “We can’t buy supplies with promises. We need that cash quickly so that we can move forward and supply the south with equipment, training and personnel that are needed to help children.”




3 August 2006:
UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Dan Toole, who has just returned from the Middle East, describes the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon.
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