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Humanitarian Aid Efforts in Lebanon Continue on Slow Path

July 26, 2006 at 1:30 PM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: Shipments of food and relief supplies have begun trickling into south Lebanon and Beirut. The deliveries by ship and aircraft followed Israel’s decision to open four humanitarian corridors to Lebanon.

But more than 700,000 Lebanese have been displaced by Israeli bombing, and roads and bridges have been destroyed, adding to the problems of delivering food and medicine.

For more now we turn to Simon Schorno, a Washington representative for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and to Neal Keny-Guyer, chief executive officer of Mercy Corps, an international relief and development agency based in Portland, Oregon.

Mr. Keny-Guyer, are there signs yet for your group that these so-called humanitarian corridors have helped with the flow of aid?

NEAL KENY-GUYER, Chief Executive Officer, Mercy Corps: Not anything significant yet. It’s, frankly, too early to tell. As your reporter pointed out, there were some trickles of boat loads of supplies that got in today. There’s more lined up on the way, we understand.

But still the humanitarian corridors are much more in the conceptual stage, and the details need to be worked out so that humanitarian access can flow to people in need, freely and in security.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about for the Red Cross, Mr. Schorno?

SIMON SCHORNO, International Committee of the Red Cross: Well, for the International Red Cross, we’ve been to have convoys, (inaudible) convoys last week already on the ground. And so our principle is to work independently, and so we have done our own intervention with the Israeli authorities in order to secure passage for Red Cross convoys.

And of course, we welcome the creation of those humanitarian corridors, and it’s certainly a great signal, but we have been working independently of that to secure our own staff safe passage.

Situation on the ground

Simon Schorno
International Committee of the Red Cross
We've been carrying out surveys on the ground, and bringing supplies, food supplies, medical supplies to hospitals, and trying to really assess the situation. We've concentrated our efforts on the city of Tyre and the surrounding areas.

JEFFREY BROWN: Shipments of food and relief supplies have begun trickling into south Lebanon and Beirut. The deliveries by ship and aircraft followed Israel's decision to open four humanitarian corridors to Lebanon.

But more than 700,000 Lebanese have been displaced by Israeli bombing, and roads and bridges have been destroyed, adding to the problems of delivering food and medicine.

JEFFREY BROWN: Describe for us -- you first, Mr. Schorno -- the situation on the ground. What are your people telling you?

SIMON SCHORNO: Well, the humanitarian situation is grave, and there is a lot of need on the part of the Lebanese population in the south particularly. And that's where we've been concentrating our efforts, helping hospitals, working alongside the Lebanese Red Cross, on the ground, ambulances and support hospitals.

We've been carrying out surveys on the ground, and bringing supplies, food supplies, medical supplies to hospitals, and trying to really assess the situation. We've concentrated our efforts on the city of Tyre and the surrounding areas.

And we've already been able to bring 90 tons of basic relief supplies, including kitchen stuff, tarpaulins, and other basic items that the population needs at this point. So it's an emergency situation with very clear emergency needs: people displaced; people in need of basic supplies, water and shelter.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Keny-Guyer, what would you add to that? What are your people saying? What are they dealing with?

NEAL KENY-GUYER: Well, we had an assessment team in the south of Lebanon just yesterday, as well, and they would confirm everything that our ICRC delegate said.

At the same time, there are already more than 100,000 people living just south and southeast of Beirut. They're living in schools. They're living in public buildings, and their situation is growing worse everyday. There's shortages of water, there's shortages of food, and there's shortages of medical supplies.

Imagine, for example, that a school that was built for 1,200 children now has more than 10,000 people living in and around it. And it already had primitive environmental sanitation, and, of course, now we have a major, major concern growing.

Challenges

Neal Keny-Guyer
Mercy Corps
If we could be assured a safe passage, not just on the coastal roads, but in and around some of the remote villages, where there's still pockets of people trapped.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, staying with you, we mentioned the damaged road, the infrastructure. What are the biggest challenges for you to get aid in? And where is it coming from?

NEAL KENY-GUYER: Well, the biggest challenge for us -- and, frankly, I guess the biggest challenge for everyone is security. If we could be assured a safe passage, not just on the coastal roads, but in and around some of the remote villages, where there's still pockets of people trapped. They've not been assured safe passage out, and that's another important concern.

Secondly, there are growing fuel shortages in the country, and if we don't have the fuel to fuel the trucks, it's very difficult to be able to provide the supplies to people in need.

And then, third, also there are limited supplies in the ports. We hope more are on the way; we're assured there are. And there are limited resources for all of us right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: What would you add to the biggest challenges?

SIMON SCHORNO: Well, certainly security right now is number one, to be able to operate, to be able to reach the victims, to make sure that the medical mission is protected, that Red Cross workers are protected, that humanitarian workers in general are able to carry out their mission. This is the concern, and, of course, running out of basic supplies for the population and, you know, being able to access this population affected directly by the bombing.

There are still people trapped in buildings. And there is clear need on the ground where the fighting is taking place. Unfortunately, the humanitarian community and the Red Cross is not always able at this point to access those areas.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you mentioned earlier working independently. Who do you deal with, in terms of the authorities? Are you able to work with the Israelis, with Hezbollah, with the Lebanese government? How do you work?

SIMON SCHORNO: Yes. The ICRC is well-positioned in the country and in Israel, as well, so we work directly with Israeli authorities out of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and with Lebanese authorities in Hezbollah leadership out of Beirut. And so we have access to the leadership and to various people in the organization at Hezbollah, and we maintain a dialogue that focuses on access for our workers. And we continually assess the situation directly with the authorities, and that's why we're able to maintain this independence of action.

Cooperation from the authorities

Simon Schorno
International Red Cross
Enough cooperation to carry out the kind of exercise we've been carrying until now, but certainly it's not ideal at this point.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you're getting some cooperation, or enough?

SIMON SCHORNO: Enough cooperation to carry out the kind of exercise we've been carrying until now, but certainly it's not ideal at this point. And, as I said, the fighting continues, so those efforts of dialogue with all involved in the fighting will have to continue.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Keny-Guyer, what about your organization, in terms of dealing with authorities and getting access to where you need to go?

NEAL KENY-GUYER: Well, we're certainly coordinating very, very closely with the Lebanese government and its high relief commission, which is the Lebanese body that is responsible for providing aid to its own people.

And in addition, we have to coordinate with the powers that be on the ground for safe access to areas, especially in the south, and we're doing that. But on the other hand, there are still isolated pockets in which we don't believe there is sufficient security right now to allow major convoys to get into people.

And in addition to that, obviously, the transportation infrastructure is very damaged right now. And that's another obstacle, as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: Who else is involved in this effort, Mr. Keny-Guyer? In your two nongovernmental organizations, are your folks seeing governments, the U.N., involved at this point?

NEAL KENY-GUYER: Well, certainly the United Nations is involved, and they've issued an emergency appeal for $150 million to meet the needs of the Lebanese in the current crisis. The European donors, the U.S. government just announced that they're providing $30 million in aid.

In addition to that, you're seeing a number of the major international NGOs, some who were already present in Lebanon, but others who are now trying to get into Lebanon as quickly as they can. Lebanon, fortunately, was a country that didn't need tremendous amount of international assistance prior to this crisis. But unfortunately, it means there's not the capacity on the ground to meet needs of this magnitude.

Timeline for humanitarian aid

Neal Keny-Guyer
Mercy Corps
Well, certainly the ICRC is a wonderful organization to support and the Red Cross family. And if I may humbly suggest, I feel that my own organization, Mercy Corps, is doing a terrific job.

JEFFREY BROWN: I'm sure, Mr. Schorno, there's always a time element to these kinds of emergencies. What's the time element here, in terms of urgency for the longer this goes on?

SIMON SCHORNO: Well, for us, the time to deliver emergency assistance is now. And it's true, it is very difficult to mobilize the resources, financial, and to find foodstuff and other supplies that need to go into Lebanon at this point. And that's where the focus is: to bring as quickly as possible all relief effort that has to take place right now.

The need of the displaced people in the south and in Beirut need the support of international community and of humanitarian organizations now, and the idea for us, the objective, is to mobilize as quickly as possible.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are you sending more people in at this point? Are you able to?

SIMON SCHORNO: We are. We've opened two offices in the south, in Myre Jun (ph) and Tyre, in the southern city. And the office has grown. The Beirut delegation has grown from two persons in two weeks to over 30 persons and 400 Lebanese staff.

So very quickly we're establishing bases in the south and also in Cyprus, logistical bases that allow us to operate in Lebanon.

JEFFREY BROWN: Whenever we do these kinds of discussions, we have viewers write to us and ask what they can do. Mr. Keny-Guyer, what would you suggest?

NEAL KENY-GUYER: Well, certainly the ICRC is a wonderful organization to support and the Red Cross family. And if I may humbly suggest, I feel that my own organization, Mercy Corps, is doing a terrific job.

And people can get updated reports everyday by going to our Web site at www.MercyCorps.org. And in addition, I encourage people to look at Interaction.org. It contains a list of the credible, really terrific organizations that also are helping in Lebanon.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK, Mr. Schorno, briefly?

SIMON SCHORNO: Well, if the American public is interested in supporting the Red Cross effort, it can contact local American Red Cross branches or check the ICRC Web site at ICRC.org.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK, Simon Schorno, Neal Keny-Guyer, thank you both very much.

SIMON SCHORNO: Thank you.

NEAL KENY-GUYER: Thank you.