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LEBANON: Escalating Violence Severely Limits Humanitarian Aid Effort
August 11, 2006
Escalating violence is making it extremely difficult for the 35 international and 47 national staff of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to reach people in large areas of Lebanon, especially in the south and in the eastern Bekaa valley. Thousands of people are still trapped in villages in the south of the country, while more hospitals are running out of food, fuel, and medical supplies. More people are leaving Beirut because of continuing air strikes. The security and living conditions of thousands of displaced people in Lebanon's capital are worsening.
Fewer people have been able to reach the MSF outpatient clinic in Bashour Hospital in Sour (Tyre) because of the deteriorating security situation in the south. Many people are walking long distances from surrounding villages: patient numbers have dropped by half, to about 50 consultations per day. The main health problems are respiratory infections, diarrhea, and skin diseases. MSF has improved the hospital's surgical facilities and is keeping medical supplies ready to provide additional emergency surgical capacity, should more people become wounded.
Mobile teams are also going out two days a week to provide medical care to centers in Sour where the displaced people have gathered (about 100 consultations per mobile clinic day). MSF has provided emergency medical material and drugs for chronic diseases to all four hospitals in the city. Drugs for chronically ill patients have also been distributed in ten villages around Sour. MSF teams have distributed hygiene kits and other supplies to 3,000 displaced people in and around Sour. Infant formula and diapers have also been provided for 1,000 babies.
Near the Israeli border, MSF supplied drugs to medical staff in Bent Jbail and Aaitaroun. In Tebnine, a transit hub for people fleeing the region, MSF has provided consultations and delivered much-needed surgical material as well as bread to the local hospital.
Since the last bridges over the Litani River have been destroyed by air strikes, it is impossible to reach the south by vehicle. In order to secure supply lines to the areas in and around Tyre, MSF has repeatedly transported medical aid and fuel to the northern bank by carrying the goods by hand across the river and loading them onto vehicles on the other side.
In Saïda, 30,000 internally displaced people (IDP) have been registered in various centers, and an estimated 70,000 in private houses. In each of its three outpatient clinics, MSF is seeing about 40 patients a day. MSF also runs mobile clinics that offer basic health care and treatment of chronic diseases to about 2,500 IDPs in five centers. Children are being vaccinated against measles and polio. Hygiene and cooking kits, blankets, bed sheets, and infant milk formula were distributed to 20,000 displaced in Saïda.
Further east, MSF has been providing non-food items to 8,700 displaced in the region of Jezzine, where approximately 20,000 displaced people are registered. MSF supports a total of seven hospitals in the town of Jezzine, in Nabatiye, Jobb Jannine, Qaraaoun, and Niha whenever the drug supply is ruptured.
The town of Sibline, just northeast of Saïda, has a well-equipped new hospital, but it lacks medical staff and is not yet operational. MSF is preparing 10 of the 40 beds at this location, and will be able to provide some surgery, if needed.
The situation of the estimated 250,000 displaced people in the Aley region (Chouf mountain) is deteriorating. All public buildings are occupied by displaced, and people continue to arrive every day. They are forced to take refuge in buildings under construction and ruins of the past wars. The Shia villages to the southwest of Aley in particular (El Qmatiye, Kaifoun, and Souq el Gharb) shelter large concentrations of displaced. Thursday night alone, about 320 families arrived in the villages of El Qmatiye and Kaifoun after air raids on Beirut. MSF provided emergency material, such as mattresses, as well as cooking and hygiene sets to the new arrivals. In total, MSF has been distributing non-food items to a total of 8,000 displaced people in the area and supports local dispensaries in El Qmatiye and Kaifoun with drugs for the chronically ill.
In Beirut living conditions of more than 100,000 internally displaced people seeking shelter in schools and public buildings are rapidly deteriorating. With very little space left, new arrivals are now starting to occupy parks, stadiums, and parking lots. Two MSF mobile clinics guarantee basic health care and the provision of medicines for chronic diseases in 10 IDP sites sheltering about 4,500 people. In addition, MSF is supporting two mobile clinics run by local nongovernmental organizations. Between 20 to 30 percent of all consultations are related to mental health problems, so psychologists have started to offer psychosocial support, mainly for children. Most mental health cases are related to war trauma. In addition, and although we continue to see a number of patients with chronic diseases, we also note a significant increase in the number of people suffering from acute illnesses such as respiratory tract infections, diarrheal diseases, and skin diseases. Relief goods are being distributed to displaced people as well. The supply of clean water has also become a priority. MSF started trucking in water and setting up water reservoirs.
MSF teams have been distributing relief goods to the most in need in different locations. In total, an estimated 44,000 displaced people in Lebanon and 8,500 refugees in Syria have received non- food items such as cooking equipment, mattresses, blankets, stoves, and hygiene kits containing items such as soap, razors, and toothbrushes. MSF teams are also improving water-and-sanitation facilities at sites where displaced people have gathered.
Lebanese medical staff are still coping with most medical needs, but are running short of medicines, including drugs for treating chronic diseases. MSF has supplied materials for 5,000 hemodialysis treatments for those with kidney disease. The MSF teams are working with Lebanese medics to set up mobile clinics to cope with the growing demand for medical care for displaced people.
Supplies are still arriving from Europe into neighboring countries where supply bases have been set up. So far, 230 tons of material have arrived in Beirut, but the relief supplies still need to reach the different areas where MSF teams are working. This material is mainly composed of non-food items (hygiene kits, cooking set, blankets, tents, matresses), medical material (material for dialysis, medicines, and surgical kits) and logistical material (sanitation equipment, water bladders, and cars)
About 200,000 Lebanese refugees are estimated to have crossed into neighboring Syria, many of them finding refuge with relatives or friends. Approximately 35,000 have been able to find shelter in schools and public buildings. MSF teams have started to respond to the needs of refugees in Damascus and are providing relief goods.