UN emergency chief to travel to Lebanon as situation worsens; urges access for aid

21 July 2006
Jan Egeland

Painting a grim picture of the worsening humanitarian situation in the Middle East, the top United Nations emergency relief coordinator announced he will fly to Lebanon today, repeated calls for a cessation of hostilities and again urged all sides to allow access for urgent relief supplies to get through.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, who spoke to the Security Council, also said he would launch a flash appeal for Lebanon on Monday to fund urgent assistance for the next three months and he called on international donors to give generously.

“The war, the terror, the attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure has to stop – in Lebanon, in northern Israel as it has to stop in Gaza. Too many children, women, elderly and other civilians have already lost their lives or are struggling to survive from their wounds,” he said.

“The Lebanese Government has requested international humanitarian assistance and has appealed for medical supplies, material for shelter and construction, as well as tents, blankets and generators and fire-fighting equipment.”

He said had formally requested that the Government of Israel guarantee of safe passage routes, or ‘humanitarian corridors,’ into and out of Lebanon.

Mr. Egeland said that although figures for the number of people affected by the conflict in Lebanon are only “indicative,” that current planning suggests there are more than half a million, including the internally displaced and those unable to relocate, and that more than a third of the total are children.

“I and my colleagues have consistently called upon all parties in the conflict to live up to their obligations under international humanitarian law and grant access to humanitarian workers and relief items to those most affected by the hostilities.”

After Lebanon, Mr. Egeland said he plans to visit Jerusalem for consultations with the Israeli authorities and also hopes to visit Gaza where he told the Council the situation remains as “critical as ever.”

Adding to growing international calls for an end to hostilities in Lebanon and for the opening of a humanitarian corridor, has also been the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, as well as the head of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) who also highlighted the plight of women in the hostilities.

“Killing and maiming, the denial of humanitarian access for children as well as attacks on schools and hospitals are considered grave violations of children’s rights by the Security Council,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, expressing deep concern for the situation in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

UNFPA said in a press release it was responding to a request from Lebanon’s Ministry of Health for urgent supplies and medicines for immediate needs, including clean delivery supplies to enable pregnant women to deliver safely and hygiene kits.

“I join the United Nations Secretary-General in calling for the end of hostilities and the establishment of safe corridors for humanitarian workers and relief supplies to reach civilians in Lebanon,” said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. “That is particularly urgent due to the large number of women and children affected by the situation.”

Also highlighting the plight of young people, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it was preparing emergency aid but this was being hampered because of the continued fighting and lack of access.

“Children are again bearing the brunt of hostilities,” said UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes Dan Toole. “We all need to make sure that we protect children. It’s an international responsibility to protect children at all times of war.”

“We cannot yet provide a lot of assistance inside of Lebanon because of continued hostilities,” said Mr. Toole, echoing the views of the senior UNICEF official on the ground.

“We need to have a safe corridor to allow supplies to reach those who are reachable,” added UNICEF’s Representative in Lebanon, Roberto Laurenti, referring to displaced civilians.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that the world body is reinforcing its staff on the ground in Lebanon, a UN spokesperson told reporters today, however she also noted the increasing concern from UNICEF, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) about the lack of access to vulnerable populations.

Said Amer Daoudi, the leader of a WFP assessment team now in Beirut, described the difficulty of getting aid through. “Damage to roads and bridges has almost completely disrupted the food supply chain, hurting large numbers of the displaced.”

For its part, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has opened all its clinics in Damascus to Palestinian refugees who have fled from Lebanon into Syria.

Compounding the problems for the estimated 500,000 people displaced by the ongoing violence in Lebanon, as well as for humanitarian workers trying to assist them, is the danger of unexploded ordnance (UXO), the head of the UN mine clearing operation warned today.

“UXO must be marked and cleared from essential infrastructure before people can return home, houses can be rebuilt, and humanitarian personnel and peacekeepers can do their jobs,” said Max Gaylord, Director of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Since 2002, nearly 59,000 landmines and more than 4,600 items of unexploded ordnance have been cleared from southern Lebanon, enabling the resumption of farming in dozens of communities and the return of thousands of internally displaced persons.


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