First UNHCR aid convoy in almost a week reaches Beirut
BEIRUT, Lebanon, August 8 (UNHCR) - A six-truck convoy of emergency supplies for the UN refugee agency arrived in the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, the first UNHCR convoy to arrive from Syria since the main remaining road link into the country was severed by air strikes last week.
The arrival of fresh relief material - blankets, mattresses, cooking kits and tents - was vital because UNHCR's existing supplies inside Lebanon had already been distributed while assessment teams are finding urgent needs among the more than 700,000 Lebanese displaced inside their country. UNHCR has stockpiles in Jordan, Syria and elsewhere in the world.
"The delays caused by the bombing of the bridges on the main highway, as well as by logistical constraints, are causing frustrating delays and major set backs to our operations," said Niyazi Maggeramov, UNHCR's emergency team leader in Lebanon.
"We see and know the need for urgent action to get relief items to the people, but what can we do if we have no supplies inside Lebanon and we cannot accelerate the transport of supplies?" the UNHCR official added.
UNHCR had also hoped that the first of two chartered C-130 flights from Jordan would arrive on Tuesday with further supplies, but delays in securing clearance means that no flight will arrive before Thursday afternoon. The two planes are scheduled to bring in 3,600 mattresses and 9,000 blankets.
The convoy that reached Beirut on Tuesday brought 100 tents, 12,995 blankets, 1,894 kitchen sets and 1,308 mattresses. The six trucks were unloaded at a new UNHCR warehouse in the port area, a reflection that more of the aid in the future might need to arrive by sea. It was UNHCR's fifth convoy into Lebanon and the first since one arrived last Thursday before Israeli bombing closed the coastal road running south from the Syrian border.
The latest emergency supplies had been brought from Damascus to the border crossing of Al Aarida, where they were transferred on Monday to different trucks for the trip down to Beirut. It took until late Tuesday afternoon for the convoy to finally unload the supplies in the Lebanese capital.
Before the conflict the most direct drive from Damascus to Beirut would have taken only three hours, but that route was bombed at the start of the war. The attack on the circuitous northern route from Syria had temporarily halted all UNHCR shipments of aid.
The lack of safe corridors - with both passable roads and security from attack - is a problem also for UNHCR teams inside Lebanon. When 15 UN trucks went to the southern city of Tyre on Sunday with a shipment that included UNHCR blankets and mattresses, two passenger cars near the convoy were bombed.
Despite the obstacles, the UNHCR emergency team and existing local staff are working in a wide area of Lebanon around Beirut, from Jbail in the north to Saida in the south and into the mountains to the east. Up to 500,000 people of the estimated 930,000 displaced Lebanese - including some 160,000 in Syria - are estimated to be displaced in these areas.
The Beirut team is assessing the needs of some 100,000 people displaced in schools, public buildings and gardens. Beirut alone has more than 154 overcrowded schools and public buildings. Many of the displaced are also with host families. The outpouring of generosity has been overwhelming, but the pressure is increasing on the people and there are many needs in schools and public spaces.
There is an urgent need for better water distribution and improved sanitation, as many public buildings and schools lack facilities to house so many displaced people. People are in urgent need of soap, clothes, bed sheets and mattresses. Most are frustrated, angry and traumatised.
By Astrid van Genderen Stort in Beirut, Lebanon