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Lebanon: UN aid agency starts land crossing

UN food aid agency starts land crossing point for relief shipments into Lebanon

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today started the first land crossing point for regular humanitarian shipments into crisis-torn Lebanon, where an estimated one fifth of the population has been displaced by continuing bombardments since hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah fighters erupted two weeks ago.

The border crossing at the Mediterranean town of Arida, on the Syrian side of the north Lebanese border, is the only crossing point remaining open to traffic between the two countries. Over the past few days, tens of thousands of refugees have been flooding across the border point to escape the fighting.

WFP has sent ten trucks from Beirut to pick up the first consignment of aid from Arida. Seven trucks will be loaded with tents, mattresses and other shelter materials from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the remaining three with supplies from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

“The opening of Arida represents the unblocking of a major channel of humanitarian assistance and means that the aid agencies will be able to bring in more supplies, while continuing to procure inside Lebanon,” said Amer Daoudi, Emergency Coordinator for the agency's Lebanon operation.

“There are still tens of thousands of people in the south of Lebanon in desperate need, particularly in the smaller villages south of Tyre, which we still have not been able to reach for security reasons.”

Over the coming days and weeks, WFP plans to expand international access to Lebanon by negotiating the opening of the sea ports of Beirut and Tyre.

Yesterday, WFP sent two convoys south, one to Jezzine, carrying 90 metric tons of wheat flour, 15 tons of canned meat and blankets and other shelter materials for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and the second to Sidon, with six truckloads of food for Palestinian refugees for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), as well as relief supplies for UNHCR, UNICEF, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We are now organizing two convoys a day to the south and every day expanding the range of our operations, in order to reach as many of the displaced as we can,” said Mr. Daoudi.

The Lebanese conflict has left over 800,000 people displaced amidst the wreckage of damaged infrastructure and a shortage of essential goods and services, WFP said, noting that this has been accompanied by soaring prices, with many commodities more than doubling in price over the past few days.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said its first relief convoy – carrying 140 tonnes of emergency aid for thousands of displaced people in Lebanon – arrived safely in Beirut today after making the journey from Syria. The supplies of blankets, mattresses and kitchen sets will be distributed rapidly in the mountain areas outside Beirut where tens of thousands of people are crammed into schools.

“The arrival of this first convoy is really good news. We are relieved that our emergency supplies are finally able to enter Lebanon, and this is just the start,” said UNHCR's representative in Lebanon, Stephane Jaquemet. “So far we've been buying goods on the local market to help the displaced, but the market is getting depleted and the situation in the communal shelters is becoming increasingly dire.”

The convoy, loaded with 3,500 blankets, 3,600 mattresses, 2,820 collapsible jerry cans and 54 kitchen sets drove from Damascus to the Al Arida border crossing point on Friday night. On Saturday morning, the aid was transshipped at the border to six UN trucks for the two-hour journey to Beirut.

Two more convoys are planned for Sunday and Monday bringing in mainly tents which will be used to help decongest overcrowded existing communal shelters. More convoys carrying supplies from UNHCR's huge stockpiles in the region will follow.

In neighbouring Syria, where some 100,000 Lebanese are staying after having fled their homeland, around 20,000 are living in communal shelters and are in need of assistance, which UNHCR is delivering in close collaboration with the Syrian Red Crescent.

Syrian families have been extremely generous in hosting Lebanese crossing the border and needing accommodation, but they also need help with relief items to relieve the strain, said UNHCR's Laurens Jolles from Damascus.

UNHCR teams estimate that around 10,000 people a day are crossing over into Syria through four major border points. With more people arriving, the local capacity to cope will become increasingly stretched. UNHCR is setting up field units with mobile teams to monitor the northern borders of Lebanon and help assist those displaced in the Syrian cities of Homs, Tartous and Aleppo.

UNHCR has substantial regional stockpiles to draw from to send urgently needed items to Lebanon and Syria. In Jordan and Syria alone the agency has 250,000 blankets; 50,000 mattresses; 30,000 kitchen sets; 22,000 family tents; 17,000 stoves and other relief items. Additional quantities are also available in stockpiles in Iraq and Kuwait.

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