Lebanese are 'bouncing back' despite extensive destruction

A month of violence in Lebanon has caused extensive suffering and loss of life - but after years of living with war, these people are recovering quickly.

''Certainly we have a big job on our hands,'' UNICEF official Donald Allen told the Monitor. ''But it does seem that at the moment the emergency needs of the people are being met and the Lebanese are bouncing back.''

After initial Israeli and some Syrian obstruction, four major relief convoys have reached their destinations in southern Lebanon via Tel Aviv and Damascus. In the past three weeks, relief workers have managed to gather enough food, clothing, and medicine here and abroad to aid those so far affected by the Israeli invasion. Charter flights of emergency stores have been ended for the moment.

But relief workers were warning that if the Israeli Army storms or continues to besiege western Beirut, the human suffering will escalate sharply. At this writing July 7 there was still no diplomatic breakthrough regarding evacuation of Palestinian fighters from west Beirut - and prospects looked bleak.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said that although Israel accepted the concept of a US sealift of Palestinians to the Syrian port of Latakia, it would not allow a token military or political contingent of the Palestine Liberation Organization to remain in Lebanon. Earlier in the day PLO chief Yasser Arafat was similarly immovable, saying he would leave Beirut ''only for Palestine.'' July 9 seemed to be the deadline for diplomacy, and diplomats (not connected with the mission of US envoy Philip C. Habib) told the Monitor they were pessimistic.

An attack on west Beirut would cause problems as serious as those that occurred in all of less densely populated southern Lebanon. So far, according to the most reliable of wildly unreliable sources (the Lebanese Ministry of Health and the United Nations), the fighting has left 5,000 to 7,000 dead, 10,000 injured, and 100,000 to 200,000 homeless, both Lebanese and Palestinians.

Israeli officials say there have been many fewer casualties but as a rule do not include Palestinians or residents of west Beirut in their estimates. PLO officials say casualties have exceeded 100,000, a claim that is thought to be exaggerated.

The strength of the Middle Eastern family, an awareness of modern warfare, and a prosperous, enterprising culture have combined to speed up the recovery. Throughout southern Lebanon shops have reopened, greengrocers are well stocked, and people crowd in with relatives or are on the move.

After initially barring Palestinian refugees from such much-damaged camps as Ain Al Hilweh in Sidon and Rashadiya and Mea Mea near Tyre, Israeli authorities have begun to allow some to return. They are mostly women and children, the men having been rounded up as suspected PLO members and kept in Israeli compounds in southern Lebanon and Israel.

Some 7,000 new refugees have fled to Baalbek, doubling the size of that Palestinian encampment. At the same time, 25,000 to 30,000 Lebanese Shiites have returned to the Nabatiyeh area since Israel overran it. These Lebanese had fled to Beirut during the past decade due to constant Israeli-Palestinian border clashes in the south.

Water is the biggest concern in the region today, Gullamar Andersson of the UN Southern Lebanon Reconstruction Program told the Monitor. The Tyre area was most seriously affected; Israeli planes destroyed a water pumping station that served 120 villages.

Mr. Andersson estimated it would be three months before the station could be reactivated and said meanwhile water trucks would be needed to serve the area.

Mr. Andersson is also working on the water problems of besieged west Beirut. Periodic Israeli-directed interruption of water from the east Beirut pumping station to west Beirut had compounded an already critical situation. But five centers for the distribution of potable water had been established and five more were planned. The immediate problem on this particular project as of midweek was dwindling fuel for the water trucks.

Red Cross officials reported that plasma and emergency food stocks were dwindling on the west side due to the blockade. Some, though not all, medicine was being allowed entrance through the Israeli-Phalangist lines. By July 7, Israeli authorities allowed resumption of west Beirut water and electric service. Even so, conditions on that side of town were clearly worsening. Every new outbreak of shelling was causing casualties and damaging homes and water lines.

War damage to the big Zahrani refinery south of Sidon would take three months to repair, leaving Lebanon with only fuel from the Tripoli refineries in the north.

For the moment, barring a west Beirut catastrophe, medical aid seemed to be adequate. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said some 75 doctors and other medical personnel had arrived to aid Lebanese Red Cross and Palestine Red Crescent workers.

The ICRC said 250 tons of medicine and 1,550 tons of relief supplies had arrived via Cyprus since the start of the conflict. It estimated needs for the next three months would total some $18 million.

A week after the invasion, the Lebanese government asked for aid for 600,000 people for 180 days. Nineteen countries responded and $5 million was quickly accumulated. Half that sum had been converted into relief stores as of July 7 and delivered, Mr. Allen said.

Most relief agencies have turned their attention to postwar reconstruction. This includes UN projects to rebuild water stations, schools, and hospitals.

''We had been making quite a bit of progress on our south Lebanon reconstruction project before the war began,'' Mr. Andersson said. ''Now we are almost back at square one. But if the fighting stops, we can get back to work on these projects and I think we can quickly get back to where we were.''

If the fighting stops. . . . That seems to be the key to whether recovery has actually begun or whether Lebanon is simply patching itself up before the next violent convulsion.

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