18 July 2006 – Estimating that 400,000 people have already left their homes in Lebanon, with another 500,000 expected to flee the bombardment if it continues tomorrow, United Nations humanitarian agencies are mobilizing to assist them with food, shelter, sanitation and health needs. “Appropriate shelter for the large displaced population needs to be investigated along with ensuring quality drinking water, sufficient food and access to health care,” according to a situation report of the World Health Organization (WHO), which also says that safe transportation is urgently needed to move seriously injured patients to areas where the population has relocated.
Most of the displaced have sought refuge with families and friends living in those safer areas, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), but up to 40,000 are believed to have taken shelter in school buildings and public gardens.
An interagency meeting between UN agencies, the International of the Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has already been held in Geneva to share information and develop a contingent plan of action. An assessment team is expected to leave for Damascus, Syria, today and arrive in Beirut tomorrow.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is also sending a four-person humanitarian team to the region to help coordinate the response on the ground and expects to launch a flash appeal for Lebanon early next week.
The agencies are continuing discussions with the ICRC and the Lebanese Red Cross on the transportation of patients and medical supplies, and the UN Works and Relief Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) is planning to establish mobile medical teams to assist displace persons.
UNICEF, meanwhile, has issued an appeal for nearly $7.5 million to respond to the immediate needs of women and children during the crisis in the areas of humanitarian access, continuity of social services, protection and psychological aid, health and nutrition and water and sanitation.
It was announced yesterday that, if needed, UNICEF had already prepared emergency health kits, family hygiene kits and water tanks, water purification material, generators and fuel to be sent to Lebanon, while the World Food Programme WFP made available 25,000 tons of biscuits for the displaced population.
In regard to people moving out of the country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said its staff monitoring the border between Syria and Lebanon said the thousands leaving Lebanon are overwhelmingly Syrian nationals temporarily working in Lebanon.
UNHCR is also trying to monitor the situation of some 20,000 Iraqi and Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers within Lebanon, it said.