Q & A: Help for Returning Lebanese
With hope that the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah will hold, Lebanese people who fled fierce fighting in southern Lebanon and southern suburbs of Beirut are returning home. The IRC’s emergency team leader Alan Manski is in Beirut, coordinating the IRC’s expanding relief efforts.
For the last month, Beirut was swelling with Lebanon’s displaced. What’s the situation now?
The schools, parks and other public spaces where hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took refuge over the past month are emptying at an astonishing pace. As soon as the ceasefire was announced, people began loading their cars with all their belongings and hitting the roads. All the routes south are now packed with people who are rushing to return to their villages and to reunite with family and friends who they haven’t seen since the crisis began.
Their enthusiasm is understandable, but one big concern is that the traffic jams are now preventing aid convoys from delivering badly needed supplies to villages that were devastated and to desperate people who were cut off from aid during the fighting.
Is it dangerous for people to return?
We all hope that we’ve seen an end to the hostilities. But it remains possible that the two sides won’t stick to the ceasefire and that renewed fighting will cause more displacement and suffering for civilians on both sides of the border.
An immediate concern is the unexploded shells and bombs left over from the fighting. Already returnees in Lebanon have been killed and wounded by stepping on or driving over unexploded mines. It’s crucial that families and especially children understand that they shouldn’t touch or move strange objects and that they should report them to local authorities.
What are people finding when they return to their villages?
Too many are finding that they have no homes to return to. Villages across the south were completely obliterated – homes, roads, shops, farms, schools – completely gone. People are finding mountains of debris where there homes used to be. The emergency needs are enormous.
How is the IRC helping?
Our priority is getting into the most needy areas as soon as possible. Over the next week, members of our emergency response team and our two local partner organizations will be carrying out rapid assessments in areas in and around Tyre, Sidon, Nabatiye and villages south of Marjayoun. We’re focusing on water supply, sanitation and the special needs of children and women. We’re also going to be delivering tents, blankets and hygiene supplies to returning families.
What about the people who remain behind, or those who find the situation in the south untenable and end up returning north?
The IRC and our local partners will continue to aid the displaced who remain in makeshift shelters in and around Beirut. We’ve just completed two workshops for youth volunteers and members of the two local groups on how to address the special needs of children in crisis as well as how to teach good hygiene and sanitation practices in displacement sites. Together, we plan to deliver hygiene kits that include sanitary supplies for women and improve water and sanitation services at the sites. We’ll also help set up programs for children and support groups for women.