UN food agency supplies are distributed in Lebanon; other relief aid held up in Syria

25 July 2006

United Nations food aid is being distributed today in and around the Lebanese capital Beirut to some of the 800,000 or so people forced to flee their homes because of the worsening conflict, but at the same time the UN refugee agency said that relief supplies for over 20,000 displaced are still held up in Syria because of access problems.

Separately, a senior official from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned of a “major food crisis” because the rising insecurity and damage to roads and bridges in Lebanon have not only interrupted the food supply chain but was also likely to disrupt the country’s main cereal harvest.

“The first supply of World Food Programme (WFP) food aid – 25 tons of fortified biscuits that had arrived from Italy on Sunday – is now being distributed to those that had been displaced in and around Beirut,” UN deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters in New York.

She said WFP expects to have three convoys this week in Lebanon, transporting both its own food supplies and relief from other organizations, with the first convoy expected to depart tomorrow for Tyre, carrying 125 tons of wheat flour.

Ms. Okabe added that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) reports that all of its services are functioning to provide health assistance to Palestinian refugees and Lebanese, while it is also providing shelter in schools and camps in southern Lebanon for 4,000 Lebanese.

However, despite these successes, relief supplies from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for more than 20,000 displaced and distressed people in Lebanon were blocked in Syria this morning awaiting the opening of safe passages, the agency said.

“It is enormously frustrating to be right on the back doorstep of Lebanon and ready to move in with hundreds of tons of aid, but the door remains closed,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told journalists in Geneva.

While relief supplies remained blocked, four members of UNHCR’s special emergency team joined a UN convoy and crossed into Lebanon from Syria today, she added. The team is being sent to reinforce staff already on the ground in Beirut and by the end of the week, 25 members of the emergency team are expected to be on the ground and will be split between Lebanon and Syria.

The rising insecurity and damage to roads and bridges caused by the conflict have interrupted the food supply chain in Lebanon, which relies on food imports for around 90 percent of its cereal needs, the FAO said today, warning also that the population displacement is likely to disrupt the country’s main cereal harvest.

“These factors combined provide the recipe for a major food crisis,” said Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System.

The UN yesterday launched a $149 million appeal for Lebanon covering the next three months and focusing on the immediate needs of the affected population for food, health care, logistics, water and sanitation, protection and common services.


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