Saturday, July 22, 2006

An update from Lebanon

I just talked with a number of people in Lebanon, and they say that although the humanitarian situation is varied and changing throughout Lebanon, there are some areas of severe crisis. Many people fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The worst affected areas by far appear to be Beirut and southern Lebanon, south of Sidon.

So far most items are still available in local markets but that might change soon. The bigger problem is huge inflation, with prices of goods skyrocketing. There are reports that ex-pat Lebanese who've tried to send desperately needed money to their families have been prohibited from doing so, on account of anti-terrorism rules.

Of potentially greater concern is that Israel today bombed a broadcast station for LBC television, which has had perhaps the least extensive coverage of the war. This attack may signal a coming effort to knock out all Lebanese broadcasters, mobile services and internet providers. Israeli planes have also attack mobile relay stations in the south and east. If mobiles become inoperable it will make information gathering and humanitarian assistance coordination extremely difficult. Knocking out television and internet will make it extremely difficult to relay information about what is happening in the country and will worsen the growing feeling of isolation among the Lebanese. This is expected in the coming few days.

Also of concern is that many people in the south are staying in underground shelters and there is fear that the Israeli may bomb the shelter either to drive people out of the south or by accident, thinking the shelters are underground bunkers for Hizbollah. (think Amariya in 1990 Baghdad). Media interviews at some of the shelters have not named their location for fear that Israel will use the information to bomb the sites.

Finally, there is also reportedly up to 100,000 refugees on the Syrian side of the border, some in transit and others with no where else to go. The Syrian government response so far as been fairly good, but the situation there will probably get worse as the fighting increases.


In Beirut the most affected area is the southern suburbs of al-Dhahiya. There are tens of thousands of people who've lost their homes or fled the neighborhood, putting a huge strain on other parts of the city. The government response is reported to be exceptionally inefficient and incapable, even unable to carry out a basic needs assessment survey, with only civil society providing an organized response. Civil society is better organized, but capacity is exceptionally low and totally insufficient to deal with the huge numbers of wounded and needy.

Adding to the current pressure, today refugees from the south began to arrive in Beirut in significant numbers, and those numbers are expected to rise considerably as the threat of a land invasion grows or actually happens. Of growing concern is the number of unregistered refugees, those staying in private homes who are receiving no assistance, but who have increased the needs on those with whom they are staying.

Southern Lebanon

Most refugees in the south have gone to Sidon (at least those who have not gone to the mountains), where contacts there inform us that the need is great but that civil society has been able to organize a more efficient response than Beirut. The need is still great though, and any assistance is welcomed. In Nabatiya, a small city in southern Beirut, although there are relatively few refugees (roughly 3000), there is enormous need. There is no electricity, water or fuel, hospitals are almost out of supplies, roads to the town are all bombed, and very little assistance is coming from outside. Israel is reportedly refusing to allow any aid into the south in order to force people to seek refuge further north.

Many people fleeing the southern border area are seeking refuge in the Palestinian camps. Of biggest concern are those staying in the unofficial Palestinian settlements, which are perhaps the least served places in all of Lebanon. The refugee situation is fluid and changes from hour to hour and day to day. Refugees in one area one day are moving to different areas the next, making assessment or relief efforts hard to deliver.

Some people in Lebanese feel greatly betrayed, one saying "the world has sold us." They see and sense no support or solidarity from the outside world and feel increasingly isolated. Lebanese are also extremely angry at their government's inability to respond to the disaster.

That's what they say, but who knows. The fog of war clouds everybody's eyes.


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