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Humanitarian access a huge challenge for Oxfam

Ceasefire welcomed, but humanitarian access a huge challenge for Oxfam

For Immediate Release

Oxfam welcomes the ceasefire agreed yesterday, however access remains an incredible challenge for Oxfam and other aid agencies. Hundreds of major roads and scores of bridges are impassable, and the ability to move supplies to where they are needed will depend upon the permission of armed forces on the ground. This is especially difficult in the south of Lebanon, where humanitarian aid is most needed, as Israel is currently restricting the movement of vehicles.

However, Oxfam, together with local organisations, is already providing thousands of displaced people around Beirut with clean water.

"We have constructed water tanks and are beginning a tankering service. We have also dispatched 20 water tanks to Saida municipality, and are well prepared to respond with a warehouse holding 12 tonnes of equipment which we will move south as soon as we are able," says Shaista Aziz, part of Oxfam's Rapid Response team who have been on the ground in Lebanon for over two weeks.

Oxfam New Zealand Executive Director Barry Coates appeals for assistance: "The ceasefire appears to be holding, at least in the short term. It is vital that humanitarian aid is mobilised quickly to reach hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need. Oxfam New Zealand is hoping for a generous response to its appeal for the people of southern Lebanon.

"The ceasefire must hold for Oxfam and the local organisations we are working with to do our job effectively."/ENDS _______________________________________________________ Living under the shadow of terror -- 11 August Shaista Aziz

It's 5.30 am and I've just had a very rude awakening, care of the Israeli army who are bombing the southern suburbs of Beirut. The first explosion left me feeing disorientated - a few minutes later another bomb went off and then the third, fourth and fifth - all in the space of an hour.

I decided it was time to get out of bed and take the necessary precautions to prevent myself being injured by breaking glass if the bombs landed any closer to the hotel. I opened the patio doors in my room and pulled the curtains tight across the window and then moved away from the window, taking my duvet and laying it on the carpet on the other side of the room. I tried to get some sleep. My phone started bleeping indicating that I had a text message. It was Lina, one of Oxfam's partners telling me that one of the explosions was very close to her home near Chyah, and that she could feel a change in air pressure because of the bomb.

I curled up in my duvet and tried my best to get some sleep, but when you're feeling angry and your mind is racing it is very hard to sleep. Yesterday was the first time in 30 days of this war that three bombs struck Beirut. One hit a lighthouse five minutes from our hotel. The explosion left my ears ringing for a number of hours afterwards. The Oxfam team were called back to our hotel for a meeting to discuss the safety of staff. Our team leader Simon wanted to know how we are feeling about working and living in a country where the war is intensifying on a daily basis. The meeting was also an opportunity for us to take stock of our work in Beirut, two weeks on from when the Oxfam rapid response team arrived in the country.

So far we have managed to distribute water and sanitation equipment to 30 schools housing displaced people in Beirut and we have transported 20 water tanks to the port city of Saida. The Mayor of the city asked Oxfam to help provide clean drinking water for some of the 60,000 people displaced in the city. We have sourced some water pipes and tanks locally that we are pushing out to areas in need through our network of Lebanese partners on the ground. We are aiming to reach 40,000 people sheltering in schools and public buildings displaced by the war.

Tomorrow we expect the cargo from our warehouse in Oxfordshire to arrive in Beirut. On Monday 7 August, a plane containing 18 tonnes of specialised water and sanitation equipment costing 100,000 pounds (GBP) left the UK bound for Lanaca, Cyprus. Oxfam has been coordinating with the United Nations World Food Programme to get our specialised equipment into Lebanon. The port, airport, and many of the roads and bridges in this country have been damaged or destroyed in the past thirty days of war. This has posed huge challenges for aid agencies trying to bring aid into Lebanon and then transporting it to the worst affected areas.

The past fourteen days have been very intense. The Oxfam team has been working from 8:30 am into late evening every day, organising, planning and implementing our response to this emergency. Time drags on here. Often it feels like the film Groundhog Day - each day brings more violence, more bombs, rocket attacks, more pain and misery.

For the past thirty days the Lebanese population has been living under the shadow of terror, wondering and waiting where and when the next bombs will drop. None of us are sure which part of the country will be attacked next, but we know for sure that the war is intensifying. Many of the Lebanese people I've spoken to in the past two weeks are becoming more and more cynical and have stopped hoping for a diplomatic solution to end the horror on the ground.

On the street outside the Marouche take-away sandwich shop in Beirut, I get talking to a young Lebanese student who is studying at the American University down the road from our hotel. Maha is a bright young woman who should represent the future of her country, energetic, passionate and committed. Maha is exhausted by the past thirty days of war and tries hard to control the anger in her voice.

"It's been a month since this war started and honestly we can't see things improving for us Lebanese. Every day the bombs keep falling - all of us are having trouble sleeping - we are being terrorised by the Israeli army in our own country. It's very hard for me to see my country being destroyed. Many of my friends and their families are choosing to leave Lebanon until things improve. I won't leave, this is my country and I have to stay and wait for this war to end."

I wait for Maha to pay for her sandwich so we can continue with our conversation.

"What's the future now for Lebanon?" I ask.

She smiles a weary smile: "Well, we are resilient people - but it's hard to be able to see a future for Lebanon right now. So much has been destroyed and it's going to take a very long time to get our country back to how it was."

I make my way back to the hotel with my lunch. It's 3 o'clock in the afternoon and so far today there has been fourteen explosions in Beirut. Leaflets are being dropped from the skies warning people of further attacks or asking people to evacuate their neighbourhoods.

Once in the office, I call Qaseem Saad who works with NABAA, an Oxfam Quebec partner in Sidon, South Lebanon. I've been having daily conversations with Qaseem who has been keeping me up to date about the humanitarian situation in Sidon.

Qaseem explained: "We are living in a big prison. We face massive difficulties trying to move around our own country with access to Beirut becoming more difficult. The public transport system no longer works. Before the war it would cost one dollar to travel from Sidon to Beirut. Now it costs $250. The prices are going up for everything: vegetables, milk, and petrol. When I come home from work my children cling to me- they never used to do this. They are very frightened as every day Israeli warplanes are flying above the area. The children spend all day watching TV and seeing awful images of death and destruction. Everyone here is frightened we want this war to end and we need it to end now."

It's 4.30pm but it feels like it's much later than that. So much has happened today and who knows how much sleep we will get tonight. I've been following the news from back home in the UK and like most people I'm alarmed at the news of a possible threat to kill large numbers of people in a terrorist plot involving airliners.

Living in Beirut for the past two weeks, I have a good idea of what it feels like to feel threatened by extreme violence. I've met countless people whose lives have been turned upside down in the past thirty days of war - people who have lost family members and friends, their homes and livelihoods to the extreme violence that warplanes, bombs and missiles produce.


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