UN coordination system should allow stalled UNHCR stocks into Lebanon early next week
After days of waiting impatiently in Syria for the green light to send convoys into Lebanon with 500 tonnes of emergency relief supplies for more than 20,000 very needy people, it now seems that UNHCR humanitarian items will get access to the country through the UN coordination system early next week.
We have some 20,000 mattresses; 20,000 blankets; 5,000 family tents; 5,000 bales of plastic sheeting; 10,000 jerry cans; 5,000 stoves and 5,000 cooking sets in Damascus ready to go immediately, with more supplies available from our regional stockpiles in Jordan and Syria which will be released once the pipeline is firmly established. We are exploring land, sea and air routes to get greater quantities of relief supplies into Lebanon. UNHCR is setting up a supply base in Larnaca, Cyprus and examining using the port of Mersin in southern Turkey to ship supplies to Beirut.
Meanwhile in Lebanon we are buying and distributing relief items locally while waiting for the supplies from Syria to arrive. Today, Friday, as part of a joint UN relief convoy to the beleaguered southern city of Sidon, we are sending a shipment of clothing for about 2,000 people - children and women - and well as some blankets. In the mountain areas north of Beirut, where UNHCR has been present since the start of the crisis, we are currently distributing mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets and supplementary food items such as tinned goods, coffee and jam, as well as milk and diapers to some of the thousands of people living in cramped conditions in schools.
An estimated 700,000 people have been displaced within Lebanon by the two-week-old conflict. More than half a million have fled to mountain areas, with about one third sheltering in schools and public buildings and the rest finding temporary homes with host families. In the mountains north of Beirut, UNHCR and local authorities estimate there are 67,000 people living in 222 public buildings - 43,000 in the Aley valley, 2,500 in Baabda and the rest in Shouf.
The pressure on facilities and the local population is increasing daily. In the overcrowded shelters, sanitation is a real problem and needs to be fixed quickly. In one school in the Aley valley - housing 400 people - there's only one bathroom for women. The displaced are worried about their future and about how long the generosity of the local population will last. With the school year starting again in about a month's time, finding alternative accommodation for the displaced will be important.
Apart from the mountain regions, UNHCR staff have also been determining the priority needs of the displaced in other locations in the north and south of Lebanon. In Sidon, 23,000 displaced people were reported as living in schools with a further 35,000 finding temporary refuge in private homes. Many are being helped by national non-governmental organisations, with local kitchens and restaurants providing food and water.
But there is a great need for mattresses, undergarments and hygiene supplies for women and children. In the northern city of Tripoli, some 2,000 displaced people are spread out over 30 school locations where they are receiving daily meals from local sources. Blankets and mattresses are needed for new arrivals, and sanitation arrangements in schools require immediate upgrading to cope with the numbers of people.
UNHCR's emergency team in Lebanon has been strengthened with the arrival in Beirut on Thursday of five further members coming by convoy from Syria. They join four others already in Beirut to reinforce some two dozen staff on the ground.
Meanwhile in Syria, where more than 100,000 Lebanese are displaced, the numbers of new arrivals flowing into the country has slowed over the last few days from a peak of around 20,000-30,000 late last week, to about 12,000 midweek and an estimated 10,000 on Thursday, according to our border monitoring teams. It is far too early to say if this is a trend as more arrivals of people fleeing attacks in southern Lebanon are expected.
UNHCR has set up a small office in the city of Homs with two mobile teams working from that base to better monitor arrivals at three northern border points. From Friday, today, we will have a presence in Tartous, and on Saturday we will also be operational from the northern city of Aleppo. In Damascus, our teams are distributing blankets and non-food relief items to displaced people in schools, working in close collaboration with the Syrian Red Crescent.