The impact of the Lebanon war lives on in poverty, traumatised children
BEIRUT, Lebanon, September 13 (UNHCR) - The bombs have stopped falling, but for tens of thousands of Lebanese the suffering from this summer's war continues in the form of disrupted lives, economic hardship and traumatised children.
"My children start crying whenever I say that we should go home," said one of a group of 21 women who have been unable to return since the fighting ended.
She was participating in discussions for displaced Lebanese organised by the UN refugee agency at a social development centre in Chiyah, a densely populated neighbourhood in the Dahyeh area of southern Beirut. Most had lost their homes, many had lost relatives or been injured themselves.
The five weeks of war that took more than a thousand Lebanese lives, most of them civilians, has left some children not wanting to talk, some afraid to return to their original homes and others refusing to go outside.
"Walking in the streets of Burj Barajneh [in southern Beirut], one can hear children in the background talking about hovering planes and bombs," said Carol El Sayed, a community services officer with UNHCR in Beirut.
The refugee agency agreed with the Chiyah development centre to continue the discussion groups and plan psycho-social activities to help children in the eight to 12-year-old age group overcome the damage of the war. But the meetings have also shown UNHCR the depth of the continuing problems for those displaced by the war.
At the height of the fighting, about a million Lebanese had fled their homes to safety elsewhere in Lebanon, Syria or other countries. Most returned as soon as there was a cessation of hostilities but some remained in the places where they had sheltered and many discovered they had lost their homes, forcing them again into temporary accommodation. Official Lebanese figures estimate that 200,000 people were still displaced at the beginning of this month.
"I have been without work since the beginning of the war. Landlords are requesting a year's rent in advance, not to mention the fact that there are no places to rent any longer," said a displaced man in Chiyah.
Rents have soared as demand outstrips the supply of housing. Many who lost their homes, especially in the high-rise apartments targeted in south Beirut, are sceptical that they will have new ones in a year. The displaced are falling deeper into debt.
Schools have been destroyed or damaged. Parents speak of their children's urgent need for stationery, books and uniforms. "We used to pass these things from an older child to the younger one; now that is all gone - together with our houses," sighed a mother.
Many of those in Dahyeh continue to shuttle back and forth to the areas where they had lived, mainly to ensure they are included in the registration process that is meant to pave the way for reconstruction. Most have received rent assistance from local groups, but need it for their debts and daily expenses. Economic problems have deepened in what was already a poor area.
The whole Lebanese economy has been disrupted, increasing unemployment. Tourists who are a vital source of income, fled immediately. In the Bekaa Valley, between the Lebanese mountains and Syria, some of the largest factories were destroyed. In southern Lebanon, the danger of unexploded ordnance continues to block farmers' access to their fields.
UNHCR, as it discusses these longer-term needs with communities and the government, is continuing to distribute emergency items to those who lost their belongings in the war - more than 6,000 tents, 35,000 mattresses and 85,000 blankets delivered to people so far.
The displaced Lebanese who met with UNHCR teams in southern Lebanon and Beirut emphasised the problem of finding shelter. UNHCR plans to distribute kits both for small repairs and for more substantial work. But, with the winter approaching, the men emphasised that they would have to work quickly to ensure that houses would be ready.
For those who have no prospect of moving home this year, UNHCR knows that together with other aid organisations and the authorities it must look at other needs: access to medical services, schooling for the children and now to ensure the family can generate the income they need to survive.
By Reem Alsalem in Beirut, Lebanon