After passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and the ensuing “cessation of hostilities,” hundreds of thousands of displaced Lebanese are venturing across bombed roads and bridges returning to their destroyed homes and villages in the south.

Although Israel’s aerial bombardment has ended for the moment, Lebanon’s humanitarian crisis continues to worsen because the unanimously passed resolution failed to address Israel’s blockade and the needs of all the internally displaced.

These two major problems demand the world’s urgent attention.

The Israeli military continues to impose an air and naval blockade on Lebanon, preventing necessary fuel and relief supplies from reaching the country. Aug. 16, the Lebanese government received permission for two fuel tankers to dock, but additional supplies will be needed to replenish fuel and food stocks depleted by the month-long siege.

The blockade is worsening the humanitarian disaster created by Israel’s bombing campaign, and Israel must lift it immediately. Underscoring the need for this is the time required for aid to arrive and be distributed; Beirut International Airport, for example, is estimated to need at least one week of repairs before it can function at a minimal level.

While stranded civilians of the south suffered from bombardment and heavy warfare, the rest of the country struggled to care for the internally displaced—many of whom were forced to take shelter in schools and parking garages.

Even as some of the more than 900,000 return to their villages, thousands—often among the poorest and without vehicles—remain in Beirut and other parts of the country with no reliable access to relief.

Eventually, these displaced citizens will have to find the resources to return to their villages and assess the cost and effort of rebuilding. It is unclear if the government has the wherewithal to meet the needs and concerns of the thousands left homeless.

Hezbollah’s leaders, on the other hand, have stepped forward to announce they will spearhead the relief and reconstruction effort.

Throughout the month-long war, the Lebanese government and international and domestic relief agencies struggled to meet enormous needs. The High Council for Relief, the official body in charge, faces accusations of corruption and mismanagement, and there is widespread anger directed at the government for its lack of coordination and effectiveness.

In the absence of government assistance, local relief efforts sprang up in Beirut and other areas, but lacked resources and coordination. Neither the Lebanese government nor civil society institutions were prepared to meet the needs of nearly 1 million displaced citizens under conditions of siege.

Sectarian political parties continue to fill the role of independent civil society organizations. Although the outpouring of volunteer relief efforts converged around immediate need to help the displaced, it’s doubtful if the crisis contributed to a lasting national consensus that can address Lebanon’s long-term reconstruction. Lebanon will require outside help for the foreseeable future.

A cease fire is not enough to end the emergency in Lebanon. To prevent an even deeper catastrophe, the international community must call for an immediate end to Israel’s blockade of Lebanon and address the needs of the internally displaced.

Although no reliable figures for the total cost of rebuilding the country are available, the Lebanese government conservatively estimates infrastructure damage alone could amount to $2.5 billion.

Although the United States has pledged $50 million in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon thus far, the United States provided Israel with $2.6 billion in military and economic aid in 2005. Lebanon is justified in demanding reparations from Israel, but the international community, including the United States, will need to contribute in significant amounts to the reconstruction effort regardless.

As volunteers begin to leave and donor attention begins to move elsewhere, believing that the worst has passed, it is critical the international community not lose sight of this humanitarian crisis.

How to cite this article:

Samia Mehrez "Humanitarian Crisis in Lebanon is Huge," Middle East Report Online, August 24, 2006.

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