15 August 2006

UN Moves Aid South of Litani Immediately after Cessation of Hostilities

BEIRUT, 14 August -- Following the announcement of a cessation of hostilities by both sides in Lebanon today, United Nations aid agencies immediately stepped up their efforts to bring relief to the hundreds of thousands of civilians affected by the conflict and, in particular, to deliver supplies to the area south of the Litani River, which has borne the brunt of the fighting.

Within minutes of the cessation of hostilities coming into effect at 0800 hours local time this morning (0500 GMT), two convoys of trucks organized by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which is responsible for moving relief supplies into and within Lebanon for all United Nations agencies, began moving south from Sidon.

A total of 24 trucks, carrying food, medical supplies, water and sanitary goods, will head for the southern city of Tyre.

"With the ceasefire in place, there can no longer be any no-go areas in Lebanon", said David Shearer, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon.  "As a precautionary measure during the transition period, we will continue to notify both sides of our movements."

Before the ceasefire, the United Nations had to go through a lengthy and complicated process to receive "concurrence on safety" from both sides before any aid convoy could move to any destination in Lebanon.  This process, which was regarded by the humanitarian community as a major impediment to relief efforts, will now be abandoned.

The United Nations is also setting up humanitarian hubs in key locations inside Lebanon to facilitate and speed up the distribution of aid.  These hubs will be in the ports of Tyre, Sidon and Tripoli, where they can be supplied by land and sea, as well as in the eastern town of Zahle, in the Beka'a valley.

"Up until now, our efforts to reach people with desperately needed aid have been severely hampered by the damage inflicted by bombs on roads and bridges, forcing us to take lengthy and circuitous detours.  With the hubs in place our operations will be far more effective and fast", said Thomas Keusters, WFP Head of Logistics in Lebanon.

Yesterday, a roll-on/roll-off ferry, the Anamcara, docked in Beirut, bringing food and other relief supplies for United Nations agencies and several non-government organizations.  It is planned to use this vessel to bring further aid supplies to the south, with the first shipment to Tyre expected this week.

"Getting assistance to people who have lost everything is crucial right now", said Mr. Shearer. "But that is only a small part of what needs to be done.  The most important thing to bring about Lebanon's recovery is the full resumption of commercial and economic activity."

While expressing cautious optimism that the ceasefire would hold, Mr. Shearer said that the south would remain very dangerous for many weeks to come.  He urged the population to exercise extreme caution, due to the large quantities of unexploded artillery and mortar shells strewn across the countryside.

For further information, please contact Khaled Mansour, Chief United Nations Spokesman in Lebanon, tel.:  961-3-087651 or 961-1-978013, e-mail:  mansourk@un.org or khaled.mansour@wfp.org .

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