UN aid official calls for lifting of blockade on Lebanon to allow

Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Margareta Wahlström told the Security Council that the end of the fighting five days ago has already allowed rapidly expanding access for the humanitarian community to many of the affected areas, but that the damage inflicted on road networks was making things very difficult.“Despite significant progress within the first days of the ceasefire in reaching people previously cut off from aid supplies, massive access problems remain the key obstacle to further accelerating the humanitarian response. The enormous damage to most road and bridge infrastructure leading to the south requires an immediate lift of the continuing sea and air blockade on Lebanon.” Ms. Wahlström also spoke of the danger to the returnees, who number around 400,000, of “unexploded artillery, airborne missiles, and cluster ammunition, including in residential areas and public buildings.”“In the days since the truce went into affect, reports of civilian casualties, most notably from cluster bomblets and sub-munitions, have already been reported. The contamination presents a significant obstacle to humanitarian efforts and a risk to men, women, boys and girls returning to their homes and daily activities.”The UN Mine Action Team, coordinated by the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), is working with the Lebanese Government and civil society on this problem, she said, while also calling on Member States to provide contributions for this vital work. Despite the challenges, the humanitarian community – both the UN and other agencies – was working closely with Lebanon’s Government on all aspects of emergency assistance, she added. Ms. Wahlstrom also highlighted the resilience of the Lebanese people and listing several key priorities for the aid effort over the next two months.These priorities include providing assistance along routes of return and to home communities, including shelter materials; securing sustained access for humanitarian convoys and speedy aid distribution to the most vulnerable; addressing the prevailing security risks for relief workers and returnees – due mainly to unexploded ordnance; and carrying out repairs to basic infrastructure.Ms. Wahlström said there has been a growing response from the international donor community to last month’s flash appeal for Lebanon, with more than $87 million received against the $165 million requested. UN agencies and partners will revise the appeal over the next week to more accurately reflect and effectively address the changing needs of the affected populations in Lebanon and Syria.In related news, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that four UN humanitarian convoys were dispatched today in Lebanon with supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO) the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).UNHCR staff are now on the ground in the port city of Tyre, helping in the assessment of the worst damaged areas of the south, a spokesperson said in Geneva, adding that the agency will join a five-day survey led by Lebanon’s Government this weekend to determine the precise humanitarian needs.WHO, which is coordinating the health sector response in Lebanon, will work with the Lebanese Ministry of Health and the American University of Beirut over the next four days to assess some 800 health facilities to get a picture of the needs, it said today.

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