UNHCR's first convoys scheduled to carry 400 tonnes of aid to Lebanon
DAMASCUS/BEIRUT, July 28 (UNHCR) - UNHCR's first convoys of aid for Lebanon - carrying 400 tonnes of emergency relief supplies - are scheduled to leave Syria for Beirut over the next three days. UNHCR has more than 500 tonnes of blankets, mattresses, jerry cans and other supplies in Syria awaiting urgent delivery to 100,000 displaced people in Lebanon, with more stocks in Jordan.
"This is good news. It's the initial batch of supplies we have ready to dispatch to Lebanon from Syria immediately, but it's a good start and now we can quickly bring more supplies from our stockpiles in Amman to rush into Lebanon," said Ekber Menemencioglu, UNHCR's Geneva-based director for the region. "People are desperate and need our help."
The first convoy will leave the Syrian capital on Saturday and further convoys will follow on Sunday and Monday. In Damascus on Friday afternoon, 3,500 blankets, 3,600 mattresses, 2,820 collapsible jerry cans and 54 kitchen sets were being loaded onto three semi-trailers and a truck for the journey to the Arida border crossing point in northern Lebanon.
On Saturday morning, the supplies at Arida will be loaded onto seven trucks from UNHCR's sister agency, the World Food Programme - responsible for UN aid logistics inside Lebanon - for the journey to Beirut.
These first supplies will be distributed to help thousands of displaced people living in communal shelters - such as schools and even parks - who have fled into mountain regions and around Beirut to escape the conflict. More supplies will be following.
"People have survived up until now on their reserves. But, we've reached a turning point where things could deteriorate very quickly unless we can get them practical help soon," said UNHCR's Arafat Jamal in Beirut, welcoming news of the scheduled convoy.
An estimated 700,000-800,000 people have been displaced in Lebanon since the conflict flared in mid-July, and living conditions for many of them are extremely tough.
UNHCR has substantial stockpiles of emergency relief supplies in Jordan and Syria to release for the Lebanon crisis as soon as the supply pipeline is operating smoothly. The agency is exploring sea, land and air routes to pump more supplies into Lebanon. A logistics base is being set up in Larnaca, Cyprus, and the port of Mersin in Turkey is being considered as a supply point.
In Syria, UNHCR border monitoring teams reported a decrease in numbers flowing through the borders, with some 10,000 people crossing Thursday compared to around 20,000 late last week.
"It is still too early to determine if this is a trend, as more arrivals of people fleeing attacks in southern Lebanon are expected to cross over the northern borders," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists in Geneva on Friday.
A field report from the border noted that many people were arriving with few possessions. They were often staying with generous host families or in camps. The agency is receiving requests for clothes, mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets to help these people. An estimated 20,000 Lebanese in Syria need help.
UNHCR has now set up bases in the Syrian cities of Homs and Tartous to better monitor the country's border with northern Lebanon and assist displaced people in these areas. Two mobile teams are working out of Homs covering three border crossing points and regions. An initial batch of supplies of 500 mattresses, blankets and some kitchen sets are being dispatched from Damascus to Homs so UNHCR field teams can give immediate assistance to needy displaced people in communal shelters. Further supplies will follow.
The Syrian authorities are now directing new arrivals to northern parts of the country to prevent congestion around sites in Damascus. Displaced families now in the north, and some who have been moved from overcrowded schools in Damascus, are being hosted in summer camps normally used by children for a few weeks every year. The conditions are more suited to large numbers of people compared to school facilities.
UNHCR will from Saturday be establishing a presence in the ancient, northern city of Aleppo. Throughout the country, the refugee agency is working closely with the Syrian Red Crescent, which has a strong national presence and is caring for thousands of Lebanese.