With the crisis in Lebanon continuing to escalate and hundreds of thousands of displaced people finding it increasingly difficult to obtain food and other essentials, United Nations humanitarian agencies are stepping up their appeals for safe corridors to deliver the supplies they are preparing to ship to the country.
“We ask all parties to the conflict to respect the neutrality and impartiality of aid workers and to allow unfettered access to all areas, to allow us to reach these very needy people as quickly as possible,” said Naila Sabra, Regional Director for the Middle East and Central Asia of the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
An estimated 500,000 people have fled their homes during a week of bombardment, UN agencies said, with many now sheltered in public buildings such as schools and community centres.
WFP said it is increasingly concerned about those cut off by the conflict, particularly in southern Lebanon. In addition to providing food assistance on behalf of the UN agencies working in Lebanon, WFP personnel on the ground have the lead role in coordinating logistics and telecommunications in support of UN staff safety.
The agency is finalizing an emergency plan to reach the hardest hit people, part of a planned appeal for funding and other resources to be issued in the next few days by all UN agencies and their partners.
In helping to put together that appeal and in preparing its own response, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reiterated today that children constitute a large portion of those hardest hit.
In New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Security Council that children make up an estimated one third of the over 300 Lebanese – mostly civilians – that have been killed and more than 600 wounded.
“Children are again bearing the brunt of hostilities,” said Dan Toole, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes. “We all need to make sure that we protect children. It’s an international responsibility to protect children at all times of war.”
In a joint statement released yesterday, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed the serious psychological effect the conflict was having on civilians, especially children.
Both agencies are working with Lebanon’s Ministry of Health to provide emergency medicines and supplies for acute and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as chlorine tablets to ensure safe drinking water and prevent waterborne diseases.
As the logistics and safety of aid distribution are worked out, UNICEF’s Lebanon country office and its global supply division in Copenhagen are preparing to deliver critical emergency supplies in the areas of essential drugs, water and sanitation, and recreation.
A shipment of supplies is scheduled to leave the Copenhagen warehouse tomorrow for a cargo flight to Damascus, Syria and overland delivery to Lebanon. The shipment will include 500 family water kits for 5,000 families; each kit contains soap, buckets, water-purification tablets and containers to help families collect and treat drinking water.
Meanwhile, UNICEF said, much-needed emergency supplies got through yesterday to Gaza, where continued armed hostilities have also limited humanitarian access and damage to the electrical power system has led to a serious risk of disease for the local civilian population.
“For the first time, we were able to provide fuel for water supplies and sanitation, and solid-waste disposal,” said Mr. Toole. “That’s essential, because without solid-waste disposal and without adequate water, we will have disease, we will have diarrhoea and malnutrition.”
UNICEF has also supplied emergency health kits to hospitals and health centres in Gaza that are working directly with people who have been wounded or are suffering from acute illnesses. An additional aid shipment, including more health kits, is scheduled for arrival next week.
“We’re working on different fronts to ensure immediate lifesaving needs are met,” said Mr. Toole.