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UN Gearing Up For Lebanon Reconstruction

  • Lisa Schlein

United Nations aid agencies are planning for reconstruction and rehabilitation of war-torn Lebanon. They say their immediate focus remains emergency humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of victims while these long-term projects are being assessed.

The U.N. refugee agency is providing temporary shelter for people outside the major cities who have lost their homes. The Lebanese government estimates 90 percent of some 800,000 displaced people returned home within days of the ceasefire.

UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says her agency is helping vulnerable people who still are living in temporary shelters. However, she says the main focus is on assistance to those who have returned. She says UNHCR supplies continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road. She says the agency now has storage facilities in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre.

"We are now fully operational in the South out of Tyre and Sidon," she said. "We now have convoys. Over the last couple of days, fanning out to various parts of the country that we had assessment teams earlier, delivering tents, blankets, mattresses and various other items that are urgently needed."

The World Food Program says it is a lot easier to send food convoys to southern Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut since the cease fire. Although, spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says there still are a lot of obstacles.

"The roads are bad," she said. "The UEXO (unexploded ordnance) represent a problem. It takes a long time. This is why we are using as well the sea to bring relief into the region. Tyre has become really our hub. It is from Tyre that we dispatch everything. So, yes, the situation is improving."

Berthiaume says the World Food Program is feeding more than a half million people. But, she says, she expects that number to fall dramatically in the near future.

The U.N. Children's Fund says it is planning for the next phase of reconstruction and rehabilitation. That will involve rebuilding and repairing damaged water and sanitation systems. In the meantime, it says, it is continuing to distribute tens of thousands of liters of bottled water every day.

UNICEF spokesman Michael Bociurkiw says the agency also is concentrating on getting as many children into school as possible. He says the start of the school year has been delayed to October 9 because of the damage done to schools during the war.

"So far, we found that up to 50 schools in the south of Lebanon have been completely destroyed and 300 others have suffered serious damage," he said. "The Ministry of Education, one of our closest partners on the ground there, estimates that the damage sustained by the education sector alone is at $70 million."

Bociurkiw says getting children back to school is the best way of ensuring their return to normal life. He says UNICEF is sending 4,000 so-called school-in-a-box kits to Lebanon on Monday. He says each kit contains enough school supplies for 80 children.

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