UNHCR works with local officials to reach the neediest in Lebanon
TYRE, Lebanon, August 29 (UNHCR) - When convoys carrying aid from the UN refugee agency arrive each day in the battered villages of southern Lebanon, UNHCR turns to the expertise of local officials to ensure the assistance reaches those most in need.
The cooperation is the last step in a complex process that has moved UNHCR humanitarian aid from countries around the world to the people of south Lebanon who are trying to rebuild their lives after the war.
"We are in constant interaction with our people," Ahmed Naser, a municipality worker in the village of Yohmor, told a UNHCR team. "We know who are the neediest and we will make sure that they are serviced first."
The delivery of assistance is now in full operation, with daily convoys carrying emergency items like tents, blankets and mattresses from UNHCR warehouses in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre into all areas of southern Lebanon. As teams in the south distribute aid in the field, more is arriving in Beirut by air, sea and land.
In just one week UNHCR has reached 40 of the most devastated villages in Nabatiyeh and Tyre districts, with UNHCR's own trucks and others it has rented. They have brought 31,158 blankets, 6,110 mattresses, 2,798 tents, 6,122 hurricane lamps, 2,600 cooking stoves, 13,455 diapers, 3,257 kitchen sets, 11,924 jerry cans, 6,620 bars of soap, 8,497 plastic sheets and other items. Another 20 needy villages are being targeted in the coming week
Once aid convoys reach the villages, UNHCR works closely with local authorities. The details can vary from village to village, but in general UNHCR turns over the aid to local officials of the municipalities - either the elected popular committees or the elected mukhtar (district leader). In turn they often distribute it through volunteers, including students who have come from non-political organisations in Beirut to help in the reconstruction effort.
UNHCR has started a partnership with Samidoun, a Lebanese network of human rights and humanitarian non-governmental organisations and volunteers which will work on distribution in cooperation with local authorities. Samidoun, a non-political group, has been working since the beginning of the conflict in Beirut and other parts.
The use of Lebanese to help in aid distributions also ensures sensitivity to local feelings. "We will not ask people to queue up and wait in line," said Naser in Yohmor. "It is not considerate to their suffering and all that they have been through. Tomorrow we will send a small pick-up to each house and deliver it."
Some returnees who found their stone or concrete houses destroyed had to be reassured that UNHCR was offering tents only as an emergency measure and did not expect them to be housed in tents for long. In some cases, they might just provide shelter for supplies needed in rebuilding.
For the longer-term needs, UNHCR is considering whether it is possible to provide transitional shelters - small structures that can later be expanded - to get the most vulnerable individuals through the winter.
"We will be coming back to the villages where items were distributed to check whether there are any additional needs," said Christian Oxenboll, a member of the UNHCR field teams assessing conditions.
It is vital to make sure that the local distribution has not missed vulnerable individuals. At the same time, UNHCR teams are continuing to visit villages that have not yet been assessed to see the needs.
Throughout the region, the presence of large amounts of unexploded ordnance is blocking access to both villages and the fields surrounding them. UNHCR was setting up warehouse tents in Tyre and Nabatiyah on Tuesday to support the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre and is providing five trucks for its work.
It will take months of work to clear the unexploded munitions. The UNHCR emergency assistance being distributed now, such as tents and blankets, is designed to help people through this period until they can resume life in their houses and work in their fields.
By Reem Alsalem in Beirut
and Astrid van Genderen Stort in Tyre, Lebanon