The U.N. refugee agency is sending the first convoys of aid for Lebanon from Syria today. The UNHCR says it plans to deliver 400 tons of emergency relief supplies to Beirut over three days.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says seven trucks are carrying thousands of mattresses, blankets, family tents and other supplies.
UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says the agency has huge stockpiles of aid supplies in Syria and Jordan, but could not move them until now, because routes were closed and the journey was too dangerous.
"We are exploring land, sea and air routes to get greater quantities of relief supplies into Lebanon," she said. "We are setting up a supply base in Larnaca [Cyprus], and examining using the port in Mersin in Turkey to ship supplies to Beirut. Meanwhile, in both Lebanon and Syria, we are distributing supplies to displaced people in Lebanon. They are supplies that we bought locally and in Syria, it is supplies from our stocks."
Pagonis says the supplies going to Lebanon over the next three days are enough for more than 20,000 people. The United Nations estimates more than 700,000 have been displaced in Lebanon since the conflict began.
Pagonis says the UNHCR and local authorities estimate some 67,000 people are living in 220 public buildings.
"The major problems that we are noticing there is overcrowding and tremendous lack of sanitation facilities," she added. "One school in the Aley Valley, which houses 400 people, has only one bathroom for women. So this, of course, makes things extremely difficult."
In Syria, UNHCR border monitoring teams report a decrease in numbers of people coming across from Lebanon. But, Pagonis says it is too early to determine if this is a trend. She says more people fleeing attacks are expected to cross the border. The UNHCR estimates about 20,000 Lebanese in Syria need assistance.