UN aid for Lebanon drying up
Wednesday 16th August, 2006
With 60,000 displaced Lebanese already having crossed the border back to their homes since Monday, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Wednesday appealed for more funds.
The aid agency warned emergency aid to the almost one million people displaced by the recent fighting could stop unless more international assistance is forthcoming.
WFP, which is responsible for moving humanitarian relief supplies into and within Lebanon for all UN agencies and their partners, as well as providing inter-agency telecommunications support, has so far received only $19.2 million of the $39.5 million it requires for its three-months operation, leaving a shortfall of 47 per cent.
We are now seeing hundreds of thousands of people returning to the south of the country and many more crossing the border from Syria. With the extent of the damage, many of them will find they have nothing left when they get home, said Thomas Keusters, WFP head of logistics in Lebanon. They will be relying on relief assistance for many weeks to come.
Around 200,000 people have returned to their home areas in Lebanon in the past three days, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Wednesday, reporting official Lebanese Government figures, adding however that less than half of the UNs $165 million flash appeal for emergency aid has been committed so far.
But despite the shortfall, WFP and other aid organisations have massively stepped up operations in Lebanon since the cessation of hostilities by both sides in the conflict came into effect on Monday, allowing access south of the Litani river for the first time in more than a week.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and WFP, along with volunteers from the Aga Khan Foundation and the Syrian Red Crescent Society, are working around-the-clock at the main border crossings, handing out food aid packages to the thousands of returnees to help them through their first days back in Lebanon, after weeks spent in public buildings in Syria.
It is reassuring that in spite of all the suffering they have been through and the uncertainty of what awaits them back home, they are filled with hope and excitement, keen to start rebuilding their lives, said Pippa Bradford, WFPs Representative in Syria.
Two convoys carrying emergency aid also left Beirut Wednesday morning, one headed to the southern port city of Tyre and the other, sent by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), to Wavel Camp in Baalbek carrying food for some 5,000 residents, OCHA said in a press release.
A UN-chartered ship also left Beirut for Tyre this morning, carrying food, medical supplies, drinking water and fuel. Part of that fuel will be used to supply hospitals. Meanwhile, a plane chartered by the UN refugee agency arrived in Beirut from Amman Wednesday with tents, mattresses and other relief supplies, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
Also on the humanitarian front, the UN Childrens Fund (UNICEF) and other partners are distributing tens of thousands of leaflets and warning people through radio and television broadcasts of the danger of unexploded munitions left after the fighting, as these represent perhaps the most immediate danger awaiting the Lebanese returnees.
It is estimated that 10 per cent of munitions fired during the 34-day conflict have not been detonated and many may lie dormant in schools, hospitals and houses, with the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) already reporting several incidents, including the death of a child in Tyre, caused by unexploded munitions.
Children are more vulnerable to the danger because they are attracted to things and pick them up, they know less and they are more compact than adults and closer to the ground so any explosion impacts them more greatly, said UNICEFs Director of Emergency Programmes, Dan Toole, speaking from New York.
According to the UN Interim Mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the National De-mining Office, approximately 2,600 pieces of ordnance artillery rounds, missiles, and bombs were fired every day into Lebanon during the conflict and around 8,000 to 9,000 pieces could remain unexploded.