August 12, 2006
"We didn't expect a thing," says Hammoud, shaking his head in disbelief. It was still morning and the market was crowded with people buying groceries. He drove his relatives back to the house where they had taken refuge after they fled southern Lebanon only two weeks ago. When they got out of the car they were thrown of their feet by an enormous explosion from a shell or a rocket that struck nearby.
Now Hammoud and all his relatives—eight persons in total—are sheltering in a hospital room in the southern port city of Saïda, where his brother and his nephew are recovering from their injuries. They sit on the floor with their backs to the wall, watching the images of war and suffering on a television mounted on the wall, and try to think of what to do next. Hammoud is nervous and exhausted: "The house is a ruin. Where can we go? Maybe to Beirut, but the car is destroyed and we don't have money for transport."
There are plenty of surgeons, specialists, and nurses in the hospital to provide care for the wounded, but when some medical stocks are starting to run out, they contact the MSF team in the city for assistance. Because of the war it is difficult to replace the perfusion materials, gauze and anesthetics that have been used up over the past three weeks. Even for MSF it is far from easy to ship drugs and medical supplies to Lebanon—almost all roads are cut off—and transport the supplies to the hospitals where they are needed most.
Smoldering fuel tanks
Early in the day, a car marked with the red-and-white MSF flags and stickers on all sides and on the roof sets out from the warehouse in Beirut. Cardboard boxes full of drugs are stacked high in the back and a cool box with insulin stands on one of the empty seats. There is almost no traffic on the main highway leading south along the Mediterranean, where the tourist beaches lie deserted in the sun. The MSF car maneuvers carefully along the edge of a huge crater in the asphalt, takes a detour through the banana plantations to avoid a destroyed overpass that is blocking the road, and finally speeds past the still smoldering remains of the fuel tanks of the Saïda power plant into the outskirts of the city.
"We need to move, some people really need this stuff!" says Ibrahim Yunis, the coordinator of the four-person MSF team in Saïda, as he waits impatiently for the car. His team not only provides drugs and medical supplies to the hospitals, but is also running four outpatient clinics for the 120,000 displaced, and distributing mattresses, blankets, baby milk and other basic goods in the schools and public buildings where they have found shelter. "31 centers done — 1500 families, 32 centers to be done," reads the whiteboard in the MSF office. "Milk — how much???"
Running out of drugs
Every day more people, who are too afraid to stay in their homes in the villages and towns further south, have been arriving in Saïda. In the small park in front of the municipality families squat in the shade under the trees till somebody will register them and send them to one of the already crowded collective centers. Most of them are in reasonably good health, but people with a heart condition, diabetes or other chronic illnesses are often running out of their regular medication. MSF has put up a banner to point them to the clinics where they can obtain the drugs that have just arrived from Beirut.
The people in Saïda are supporting the MSF team in many ways, says Ibrahim Yunis. "We have been given the space for clinics, the warehouse and the office all for free. The Lebanese doctors who start to work in the clinics don't even ask about their salary; they want to help no matter what."
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)