UN agencies express ‘serious concern’ over civilian casualties in Lebanon and Israel

Lebanese seek shelter in Beruit classroom

19 July 2006 – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) today expressed “serious concern” about civilian casualties and new risks to health from escalating violence in Lebanon and Israel, warning of the serious psychological impact of the conflict and stressing the need for unobstructed access for humanitarian assistance.

“Civilian deaths include dozens of children, with many more injured. The psychological impact is serious, as people, including children, have witnessed the death or injury of loved ones and destruction of their homes and communities,” UNICEF and the WHO said in a joint statement.

In Lebanon alone, more than 200 people have been killed and more than 550 injured, while hundreds of thousands of people are reportedly displaced, with more than 30,000 finding refuge in schools and public gardens in and outside Beirut, according to the Agencies.

“Unobstructed access for humanitarian assistance is critical to stave off needless death and suffering. The protection of civilians during conflict is an obligation under international humanitarian law. Unhindered humanitarian access to health facilities for the injured, for those who need care for chronic conditions, and for pregnant women, is equally critical to the prevention of more civilian deaths in this crisis.”

WHO and UNICEF are working with a broad range of partners in Lebanon, to save lives, protect civilians, and to support basic services such as health, water and sanitation, education and psycho-social care. The Agencies, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, are also providing emergency medicines and supplies for acute and chronic conditions.

In addition, WHO is conducting health assessments with national authorities to identify the most urgent health needs and UNICEF is supporting the pre-positioning of a number of generators in key health facilities throughout the southern parts of the country, along with sufficient levels of fuel reserves, so that health facilities can continue functioning.

UNICEF and WHO will be part of a larger UN appeal that will be released next week which will include funding for a whole range of humanitarian assistance.

Also on the humanitarian front, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is despatching an emergency mobile team this week to Lebanon to assess the situation of those displaced by the conflict which, according to the latest UN figures, total around 500,000.

UNHCR has already carried out a preliminary assessment and with stockpiles of relief supplies such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets in neighbouring Syria and Jordan, and is well placed to respond to any immediate shelter needs, the Agency said.

Any UNHCR effort will be closely coordinated with the Lebanese authorities as well as with international partners such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Initially, UNHCR will look at providing assistance to approximately 10,000 displaced families – mainly among the groups that are now being accommodated in community shelters, public buildings and institutions.

Reports from UNHCR staff monitoring the border between Syria and Lebanon say the thousands leaving the country are overwhelmingly Syrian nationals temporarily working in Lebanon. Some Lebanese are also leaving the country, but do not need assistance. However, some third-country nationals trying to leave without documents have been stranded and UNHCR has raised that issue with the Syrian immigration authorities.

UNHCR is also trying to monitor the situation of some 20,000 Iraqi and Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers within Lebanon. UNHCR has relocated 10 non-essential staff and family members outside Lebanon.

Finally, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that it continues to carry out humanitarian work in coordination with the Lebanese authorities, even as its compounds in the south are hit by shelling, with Hezbollah continuing to fire rockets from the area and the Israeli Defence Forces intensifying its bombardment.

It said its compound in Bint Jubayl, in the central sector, was heavily damaged by two artillery shells, and its headquarters in Naqoura was also hit. There were no casualties in either incident.

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