UNICEF stresses need for humanitarian access in Lebanon aid airlifted into Beirut

With more than a thousand people killed in the worsening conflict between Hizbollah and Israel and around a quarter of Lebanon’s entire population forced to flee their homes, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today stressed the urgent need to allow humanitarian aid to get through, as the world body said it was airlifting more emergency supplies into Beirut but that land convoys were still facing problems.Listing the growing humanitarian cost of the conflict, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman highlighted its impact on children, noting that along with those killed and injured “countless others are living in extremely precarious conditions which are worsening daily, with limited access to clean water, food, medicine and hygiene supplies.”She pointed out that thousands of families and children critically need support. “At present we are unable to reach the majority of them,” she said. “We call upon the parties to urgently agree to a cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian agencies to deliver needed supplies.”UNICEF, which is involved in various aspects of emergency work including supporting an immunization campaign to protect Lebanese children against measles and polio, is also working to help young people deal with the deaths, injury and other terrifying events they and their families have experienced.“By keeping families together and organising structured activities we can go some way towards putting normality back into the lives of these children and their parents,” says UNICEF regional child protection adviser Trish Hiddleston. “Children do have an inner resilience in times of crisis – we have to build on this.” Implementing Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s call for an immediate cessation of hostilities will be the most effective way to protect these children from further distress and provide an opportunity for their healing and recovery, the agency said in a press release.Also on the humanitarian front, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has started an airlift from Jordan and Denmark to help rush tonnes of urgently needed supplies to Lebanon, including medicines from the UN World Health Organization (WHO), it said in a press release, adding that the first flight got through on Thursday and a second flight landed in Beirut this morning.UNHCR said more flights are being planned and sea routes are also being used to bring in supplies because the severely damaged roads between the border with Syria – where the agency has a major supply base – have slowed up the convoys and made it increasingly difficult to move emergency aid in bulk.Israeli warnings and air strikes in the densely populated southern suburbs of Beirut are also creating havoc as people flee to overcrowded areas for safety and the aid agencies scramble to help, according to UNHCR.“It is really impossible for thousands of civilians to leave their homes in a matter of hours and find safety nearby, particularly when the public centres are already bursting with displaced people,” said UNHCR’s representative in Lebanon, Stephane Jaquemet. “For those who have already been displaced once and fled to find safety in Beirut, only to be displaced a second time, is exceptionally tough and frightening,” he added.The UN refugee agency has also started setting up tented camps in Syria to help deal with around 160,000 Lebanese who have fled to safety there, a UN spokesman told reporters in New York.Permission for UN convoys to southern Lebanon continues to be denied by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today, while noting also that there’s been no improvement in the countrywide fuel shortage.OCHA says that according to the Lebanese Higher Relief Council, 1,056 Lebanese have been killed and 3,600 wounded in the past month of conflict, while Israel’s Government reports that 41 Israeli civilians have been killed.Adding his weight to broader UN calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the Middle East, was the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today who also warned of the conflict’s longer-term impact on the young people of the region.“Moreover, what does the future hold for the youth of the Middle East – whatever their nationality, affiliation or religion – when their minds risk being so deeply troubled that they will never be able to learn to talk to one another or live side by side?” Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura asked.

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