Relief aid pour into Lebanon after ceasefire

BEIRUT (AFP) — Food, bedding and other emergency supplies are pouring into war-battered Lebanon since a ceasefire took effect more than a week ago, United Nations relief officials say.

Aid deliveries to needy residents, many of them in remote areas, have been drastically stepped up after agencies were finally able to move into southern Lebanon since the final days of the war between Israel and Hizbollah, the officials said.

In the week after August 14 when the ceasefire took hold, the UN’s World Food Programme delivered more than 1,050 tonnes of food compared with 1,450 tonnes during the three previous weeks, said David Orr, a WFP spokesman.

“You could see a significant change,” added Daljeet Bagga, of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “There were more convoys, more material and more supplies.” In one southern border town, Aita Ash Shaab, the first UN aid arrived Sunday.

“We’re bringing them water, blankets and tents, but they ask ‘what are we going to do with this — why not food?'” said Peter Klang, who led the first convoy of six trucks into the town, which the Swedish aid worker said appeared to be on the verge of a food shortage.

The trucks were unloaded under the watch of French peacekeepers in one of the few public squares not choked with rubble and twisted wire caused by bombardment of the town less than two kilometres from the Israeli border.

Faiza Khaled stood amid ruined cookery, staring through a gaping hole where the back of her home had been blasted off. Her family’s tobacco crop lay flattened by bomb blasts that also destroyed their three tractors.

“We only have one room left in the house. No water, no electricity,” said the mother of a large farming family.

Her plight is typical.

Bagga said more than 80 per cent of homes are destroyed in some villages.

“The greatest needs are for clean water,” Orr said. “There are areas without electricity and without enough fuel for generators.” He said WFP estimates it has reached 460,000 people since their relief operation began on July 23. The number includes 125,000 Lebanese returning from refuge in Syria since the ceasefire, he said.

Families typically receive a two-week supply including wheat flour, canned meat and high-energy biscuits but in some communities without electricity residents have asked for bread.

“Where possible we’ve tried to get bread baked and distribute that to them,” Orr said.

WFP trucks deliver the supplies to warehouses from where Lebanese authorities, the Red Cross, or non-governmental organisations distribute it to schools or wherever people are staying, he said.

“There are a few areas that we haven’t reached… But people are not starving,” Orr said.

Aid has been arriving by ship and by air in the capital Beirut before it is trucked out to needy communities, the officials said.

“We have road convoy movement every day,” Bagga said.

He and Orr said an Israeli blockade of Lebanon has become less of an issue.

Israel implemented an air, sea and land blockade when hostilities broke out with Hizbollah but Israel says the move only aims to stop Hizbollah from smuggling arms into Lebanon.

“The embargo is of course totally unhelpful” to the living conditions of the nation, Terje Roed-Larsen, a UN special representative, told reporters on Sunday.

But Orr noted the blockade has not prevented several aid ships from reaching Lebanon over the past week, and the UN says Royal Air Jordanian will fly into Beirut three times daily.

The United Nations appealed for $165 million in emergency funding and 54 per cent of that goal, about $89 million, has now been funded, Bagga said.

He said more still needs to be done because the emergency phase is far from over. “I think that will continue for another month or so,” he said.

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