Humanitarian corridors are critical for aidBMJ 2006; 333 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.333.7561.217 (Published 27 July 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:217
Middle East: Humanitarian corridors are critical for aid to Lebanon
Specialist United Nations agencies are mounting a massive relief operation to reach more than 700 000 Lebanese civilians displaced by the escalating conflict and in need of urgent help. Half of the displaced people are children.
An emergency appeal launched on 24 July in Beirut by the UN’s top humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, is seeking $149m (£80m; €120m) from donors. The sum includes $32.4m to serve the health needs of 800 000 people over the next three months, $15m for nutrition, and $14m for water and sanitation.
A World Health Organization official said that the entire health infrastructure in the south of Lebanon is destroyed but noted that hospitals in the rest of the country were functioning.
Drugs for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease were running out, and WHO, along with Lebanese health authorities, had established a list of what was needed and would try to buy them locally or in neighbouring countries.
But as the BMJ was going to press on Tuesday UN relief was still being stymied by the ongoing air, sea, and land blockade that is preventing even basic supplies from entering the country—although some shipments have managed to come in by sea.
"We have 500 tonnes of aid sitting on the Syrian-Lebanese border, and we can’t get it in by road. We don’t have safety guarantees, and we need these from all sides," said a spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency, Ron Redmond.
The issue is being raised "every single day," he said. "It’s a very frustrating thing for us."
Meanwhile the agency estimates that 210 000 people have crossed the border into Syria since the conflict started, and some experts project that the number could hit 300 000.
The crisis was sparked by Hizbollah raids on Israel on 12 July, in which two Israeli soldiers were captured, and by Hizbollah rocket fire into Israel. The Israeli government responded by bombing Hizbollah positions in southern Lebanon, attacking Beirut airport and launching an air and sea blockade on Lebanon.
To avert the crisis from escalating into a massive catastrophe the UN last week formally asked the Israeli government to permit the opening of a humanitarian corridor by air, land, and sea, so that aid convoys can reach vulnerable people in different parts of the country.
It was critical that the Israeli armed forces provide the necessary guarantees, said the public affairs officer of the World Food Programme, Christiane Berhtiaume.
"We’re negotiating with the Israeli forces, and I hope they will give us all the necessary guarantees," she said.
The World Food Programme planned three convoys—clearly identified as UN— to deliver food to people in the heaviest hit areas.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "gravely concerned about the safety of medical staff" in light of ambulances being hit by munitions and has raised the issue with the Israeli authorities after two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances were hit, despite both vehicles being clearly marked.
Unicef representatives noted that humanitarian access was difficult but added that they were buying emergency supplies locally and delivering water tankers to schools, many of which have been converted into emergency shelters and are each housing more than 1000 people.
The humanitarian crisis was to feature prominently at the Rome conference on the situation in Lebanon to be held this week after the BMJ went to press, which was to be attended by foreign ministers from 14 countries as well as the UN secretary general Kofi Annan and officials from the European Union and the World Bank.
Mr Annan was expected to repeat his call for a ceasefire.
A spokesman for the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said, "We remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Lebanon." The United States has authorised $30m in immediate humanitarian assistance to victims of the conflict.
Moreover, to meet the most urgent needs the US was dispatching two large scale medical deliveries to Lebanon, each containing enough supplies to meet the basic needs of 10 000 people for three months.
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