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Finding Clean Water One of Lebanon's Biggest Problems, UN Says


United Nations aid agencies say clean water is the number one challenge facing relief efforts in south Lebanon. They say major destruction was done to water and sanitation systems during the month-long conflict.

Preliminary assessments in the district of Tyre in southern Lebanon show water and sanitation systems in 42 out of 70 villages have been damaged. U.N. assessments in other war-affected communities, including the capital, come up with similar findings.

UNICEF Water and Sanitation Specialist Paul Sherlock has just returned from a three-week mission in Lebanon. He says wherever he went water was uppermost in people's minds. He warns the acute shortage of clean water could hinder the process of reconstruction. He notes the return of displaced people to the communities they fled will depend on the availability of water.

UNICEF is coordinating a large water and sanitation operation in Lebanon. More than 50 U.N. and non-governmental agencies are involved.

Sherlock says the distribution of bottled water is being stepped up. But, increasingly, he says this is being complemented by the installation of large water tanks that better serve community needs.

"There is a real problem at all levels-both pipe-work level and at the power level," Sherlock says. "So, as a temporary measure, many agencies will be putting in temporary water supplies and temporary tanks, and be [bringing in] water from safe spots."

UNICEF is collaborating closely with Lebanese authorities and is providing support wherever needed, including supplying generators for water pumps and repairing damaged equipment.

The Lebanese government estimates 90 percent of some 800,000 people displaced by the war have returned home. But that still leaves tens of thousands of people who still are in need of assistance

U.N. refugee spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says her agency is providing tents for people who need them, as well as repair kits so people can make their homes livable.

"Different people in different places have got different needs," Pagonis says. "The repair kits will include plastic sheeting, plywood, corrugated metal sheets, woods and sort of basic tools such as hammer and nails, shovels, etc. So we are still going through all of these assessments, trying to get emergency assistance out as soon as we know where people need help. But this is still in an infant stage as we still do not have the kind of vast map of all of the destruction yet."

U.N. aid agencies say tens of thousands of war victims will require emergency assistance for some time to come, especially food, shelter and water. But they say they have been able to send large quantities of relief supplies to those in need since the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah went into affect.