Lebanon Crisis: returns nearly over, refocus on south
With the phenomenal speed of the return of displaced Lebanese to their home areas, the UN refugee agency is already shifting its focus to the next phase - providing emergency and temporary shelter for those people whose homes have been destroyed in the south of the country.
The number of Lebanese sheltered in Syria peaked at an estimated 180,000, but by the end of Thursday, the fourth day of the ceasefire, more than 107,000 had crossed back to Lebanon on the official crossings. The governor of the Homs region estimated another 10,000 had crossed by unofficial routes from his area on one day alone. There are a few vulnerable cases remaining and some families left behind while the men check conditions at home, but the vast majority of Lebanese have now returned. The total of 26,000 returning from Syria on Thursday was less than in the previous two days and collective shelters now appear to be largely empty.
UNHCR teams have found a similar situation inside Lebanon. Public buildings in the areas around Beirut are reported virtually empty. For instance, those sheltering in the Metn and Kesrouane areas - immediately around Beirut - were estimated at 62,000 during the war. It is hard to verify the status of those in private accommodation, but public buildings are now almost empty. Our teams found only one or two families in schools that were jammed full at the time of the ceasefire.
UNHCR staff are now on the ground in Tyre and joining in the assessments of the worst damaged areas of the south. UNHCR is the lead UN agency for shelter and will join a five-day survey led by the government of Lebanon starting this weekend to determine the precise needs. In addition to the destruction, there is a major problem with vast amounts of unexploded ordnance littering the ground. Over the course of the conflict, it is estimated 3,000 explosives of various types were hitting Lebanon each day - with the rate doubling in the last stage of the conflict. Some 10 percent of that may be lying, unexploded. There have been several injuries, and three children have died, from explosions since the ceasefire began.
UNHCR will initially provide emergency shelter for the most vulnerable in the areas outside major cities of Lebanon. It will also help in the rehabilitation of public buildings in rural areas such as schools that would provide temporary shelter as residents rebuild their own homes.
As part of this focus, more UNHCR supplies are arriving in Lebanon. A French ship docked in Beirut yesterday with five trucks, 100 plastic rolls, 15,000 jerry cans, 30,000 blankets and 5,000 kitchen sets. The last of five UNHCR-chartered flights by the Royal Jordanian Air Force arrived on Thursday carrying 200 tents. The same day the first of a dozen flights donated by the Belgian Air Force touched down in Beirut, this time with 2,000 plastic sheets and one of the large warehouse tents UNHCR will use to store the material being pre-positioned in Tyre, near the area of greatest need. The Portuguese Air Force is scheduled to join in the airlift from Amman on the weekend.
UNHCR supplies arriving in Beirut are being transferred to Tyre in preparation for distribution to those who have returned to find their houses and belongings were destroyed. Five trucks arrived in Tyre on Thursday with 8,100 blankets, 289 tents, 852 mattresses and 240 kitchen sets. Another 821 tents were transferred from Beirut to Sidon, where UNHCR is also establishing warehouse facilities.