Amid ruin in Lebanon, families find aid

Over the past 10 days, the International Red Cross has given supplies to some 25,000 households in the south..

The warehouse was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes, along with swaths of this south Lebanese village. So the first doses of relief aid had to be unloaded at the school.

Rolling by a string of destroyed homes and past the cemetery, two trucks from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) arrived in the scalding school parking lot to offload hundreds of kitchen sets.

Staff wearing bibs marked with the red cross squeezed the sets between a mountain of flour, stacks of tinned chicken and beans, and hygiene kits – supplies for 1,000 families for 10 days that would be divided and handed out, door-to-door, by local officials.

"What we receive slows the damage," says Kamal Abu Khalil, deputy mayor of this village six miles south of Tyre, whose 6,000 residents return every day, and stay if they can. "We are grateful, but we need more."

The UN and relief agencies are gearing up a large humanitarian effort to care for the needs of an estimated 700,000 Lebanese returning to ruin, which spreads across scores of villages and towns. According to the UN on Thursday, about $94 million has been committed to the $165 million "flash appeal" for Lebanon.

Though the cease-fire has largely held for 10 days, the ICRC and UN still notify the Israeli military of their convoy routes. The ICRC notification documents indicate that each vehicle is marked on "all sides with a red cross." The chance of renewed conflict is sufficiently high that every UN convoy still requires an armored UN military escort.

"We have security constraints that make it difficult for us ... to move everywhere freely," says Astrid Van Genderen Stort, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which has been assessing village needs and expects to begin daily convoys by the weekend.

The aid pipeline is improving, after weeks in which an Israeli military naval and air blockade – as well as air strikes against remaining land routes from Syria – cut off supplies. Even convoys approved by Israeli forces were sometimes targeted.

Now, four humanitarian flights a week are arriving, boats are allowed to dock, and trucks are getting in. The government has asked the UN not to extend a declared three-month emergency. The World Food Programme sends out two convoys a day, with thousands of five-day family portions of basic wheat flour; they estimate 350,000 people in need.

"There is an enormous amount of destruction ... I have a lot of flashbacks to Kosovo," says Ms. Stort. "There is an immediate need, because people have lost everything. So they need mattresses, blankets, jerry cans and lanterns, because they don?t have electricity or fuel."

Some families return to rubble; others have been spared. Some families lost everything; others have rich relatives or children with city jobs. The Lebanese government says 90 percent have returned, though the UN estimates no more than 70 percent so far.

Nestled in the foothills just up from the Mediterranean, Al-Qlaileh is one dot on the map of destruction, a microcosm of great need across the south – as well as an illustration of the set of coping mechanisms particular to Lebanon.

The ICRC convoy was the second this week; days before, a United Arab Emirates charity brought supplies for 625 families.

"We had two big surprises," says Bart Vermeiren, the ICRC field coordinator for Tyre. "The first was July 12, when it all started. The second was August 14, when in all changed in 24 hours. They stopped firing at 8 a.m., and within two hours there were traffic jams."

The emergency phase for the ICRC – in which the priority is flooding the area with immediate supplies, from fresh water and bales of blankets to pre-cooked meals – is likely to last just two more weeks.

"Now we are not cross-checking, just getting the number of families [in a village] and getting it in," says Mr. Vermeiren. After that, needs and locations will be clearer, and specifically targeted.

"It is clear that Lebanon is different from any country in the world," says Vermeiren. "They have a lot of coping mechanisms, like rich businessmen, and food from the Bekaa [Valley]."

The ICRC has already boosted the numbers of foreign delegates from six or seven a month ago to 30 now, with 50 to 60 local Lebanese staff. That growth – along with six more trucks that came down to deliver stockpiles from Tyre to villages, making several convoys a day – means much more reach.

By the end of this week, the ICRC will have provided for 25,000 households, from Sidon to dozens of villages from Nabatieh to Bint Jbail.

"The biggest problem is the logistical supply chain," adds Vermeiren. "We have trucks coming from Sidon and Beirut, but it's just not enough."

But it's a crucial start for some. "We need every bit of it, especially detergent, because this is an infected environment," says Naifi Chibli, sitting in a semicircle of women in Al-Qlaileh. "It's very important."

But Mrs. Chibli also has a generator nearby and her house is largely intact, though many other in her neighborhood are now marked by bomb craters. Her citrus grove burned, but her daughter is a school-teacher and her son works outside Lebanon.

"The people appreciate the help, but they don't eat what is in those cans," complains a young woman sitting nearby who would only give her first name, Dania.

"Nobody is sitting and waiting for aid," says Dania. "Every family has a son or daughter working for the government of a company. They support each other."

But many also have a multitude of worries. "The destruction of 50 percent of this village affects the needs of half the population," says deputy mayor Khalil, standing among the stacks of baby formula and tinned stuffed eggplant meals that await the returnees of Al-Qlaileh.

"This food is already cooked," says Khalil. "In the destroyed houses, there are no kitchens, so we can't cook." The 600 ICRC kitchen sets are for just such families whose homes no longer exist.

"People are busy cleaning up, and everything is polluted with this dust," says village councilman Adnan Fakhi. "They don't have time to worry about food also."

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