By Sabine Dolan and Tim Ledwith
NEW YORK, USA, 20 July 2006 – As the humanitarian situation deteriorates further amid continuing conflict in Lebanon and Israel, UNICEF is concerned for the lives, health and well-being of children caught in the crisis.
To help address those concerns, the organization is preparing a shipment of relief supplies to the region.
“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.”
Hundreds of people have been killed and wounded in the conflict so far. Hundreds of thousands across Lebanon are displaced, having fled their homes following the outbreak of hostilities over a week ago.
“The preliminary estimates are about 300 people have been killed, about 700 injured, and we believe about one-third of these are children,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman told CNN in an interview yesterday. “It’s a devastating impact on children,” said Ms. Veneman. “They are witnessing very, very difficult things in their lives.”
In a joint statement, UNICEF and the World Health Organization said the fighting was having a serious psychological effect 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.
Cargo flights scheduled
But as the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon and Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel continue, getting aid to children and families in need poses an enormous challenge for relief agencies.
“We cannot yet provide a lot of assistance inside of Lebanon because of continued hostilities,” explained Mr. Toole.
“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.
As the logistics 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.
According to Supply Division Emergency Coordinator Tanny Noorlander, a shipment of supplies is scheduled to leave the Copenhagen warehouse for cargo flights this weekend to Damascus, Syria and overland delivery to Lebanon. The shipment will include 500 family water kits; each kit provides 10 families with soap, buckets, water-purification tablets and containers to help them collect and treat drinking water.
Situation in Gaza
Meanwhile, continued armed hostilities have also limited humanitarian access to Gaza in the occupied Palestinian territories, where damage to the electrical power system has led to a serious risk of disease for the local civilian population.
However, much-needed emergency supplies did get through to Gaza yesterday.
“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.