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MSF in Lebanon, 2006
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In July 2006, civilians in Lebanon were trapped by an intensifying war between Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Ongoing fighting, including bombings, caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes and left many civilians with a limited capacity to meet basic needs including healthcare.
The first MSF team arrived one week after fighting began. MSF focused on providing emergency aid including medical care, fresh water and sanitation facilities to hundreds of thousands of displaced persons seeking refuge in Beirut, Saïda, Sour, Jezzine, Nabatiye and the Aley region. Assistance was also given to Lebanese refugees who had crossed into Syria. MSF supplied more than 60,000 displaced persons in Lebanon and 3500 refugees in Syria with relief items such as cooking and hygiene kits, mattresses, blankets, baby formula, and tents. Mental health support was also provided to help people cope with the trauma experienced by the war.
Whilst Lebanese medical staff were able to cope with the crisis, medical supplies began to diminish, especially stocks for the treatment of chronic diseases such as kidney disease. MSF helped replenish needed supplies, sending over 300 tonnes of material to Lebanon including relief items, medical supplies and medicines, surgical kits, and logistical materials such as sanitation equipment and water bladders. Teams also worked with local medical teams to set up mobile clinics.
Hard to reach
The IDF imposed an air and sea blockade and carried out airstrikes on several bridges and important roads. MSF obtained safe passage by sea and worked with Greenpeace to transport 75 tonnes of essential supplies from Cyprus to Beirut aboard the Rainbow Warrior.
Ongoing airstrikes made it difficult to obtain access to people in need, particularly in the south. When the last functioning bridge across the Litani River in southern Lebanon was destroyed, a human chain was the only practical means for transporting four tonnes of supplies. Trucks, vans, ambulances and cars were targeted several times, making land transportation extremely difficult and dangerous, and MSF spoke out about the lack of access caused by the imposition on any movement. MSF publicly refused to accept the paralysis of humanitarian assistance and reiterated its intention to use every possible means to reach those in need.
When a ceasefire came into effect on 14 August, the majority of the displaced people returned home within a few days. During this phase, MSF assessed needs in areas that had previously been cut off by the fighting. It also brought medical and non-medical care primarily to the south and in the Bekaa Valley.
Throughout and following the conflict, Lebanese health staff and facilities addressed the majority of the medical needs and MSF provided a supportive role. Once the acute phase of the emergency ended, organizations began to arrive to help reconstruction efforts and MSF ended its activities. MSF continues to monitor the situation closely.
MSF has worked intermittently in Lebanon since the 1980s.