As Israeli armed forces and Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen attempt a belated ceasefire, civilians in the worst-affected areas of conflict have been counting the cost, Oxfam’s Shaheen Chughtai reports from Lebanon.
In a conflict that has seen death and destruction in northern Israel and throughout Lebanon, the heaviest toll and worst devastation has blighted the towns and villages of south Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Southern Lebanese towns such as Qana, where about 50 civilians were reported killed in a single Israeli attack, and Srifa where dozens more have died, have suffered more than most. Srifa saw particularly heavy bombardment between 19 and 21 July.
“At least 45 people have been killed in Srifa, and over a hundred injured,” says the village Mayor, Khodor Najdi. “But only ten bodies have been recovered – those whose bodies were lying openly in the road or accessible places. The remaining 35 still lie under the rubble – no one has been able to reach them.”
Few families in Srifa were left unscathed. Khodor’s own brother, brother-in-law and nephew were at home when an Israeli missile crashed into their house and killed them. Their bodies too remain buried under the rubble.
“The stench of death in Srifa is terrible because of the human corpses, as well as those of animals such as goats and donkeys,” says Khodor.
Besides the loss of over 1000 lives in Lebanon (more than 130 Israelis have been killed during the same period), severe damage has occurred in south Beirut and southern Lebanon. The Lebanese government – already heavily indebted – estimates that the country has suffered around $2.5 billion of material damage.
It calculates the war has so far wrecked nearly 7000 homes; 160 factories, markets, farms and other commercial buildings; 29 airports, ports, water and sewage-treatment plants, dams and electrical plants; 23 fuel stations; 145 bridges and over-passes; 600km of roads. Meanwhile, shocked residents are still coming to terms with their personal losses and tragedies.
“We haven’t yet done a proper analysis of infrastructure damage in Srifa because our main concern at the moment is to recover the bodies of victims from under the rubble,” explains Khodor.
“However, at least one bomb exploded next to the town’s main water supply tank so I’m sure there is no running water supply now. And we know more than 150 family homes have been totally destroyed in Srifa,” he says.
United Nations observers have reported an average of 200-300 aerial bombs dropping daily on areas next to the Lebanese-Israeli border. Additionally, at least a similar amount has been dropped on the remainder of south Lebanon.
Although an estimated 100,000 people have been trapped in south Lebanon with disappearing stocks of food, water, medicine and fuel, humanitarian agencies have not been able to access the region because of the lack of security and the destruction of roads and bridges. On at least one occasion, a relief convoy has been fired upon by Israeli forces despite prior agreement of safe passage.
Oxfam is already helping 40,000 displaced people in Beirut and some southern locations with its water and sanitation services and public health activities, working through one of its local partner organisations, the Collective for Research & Training on Development-Action (CRTD-A).
Another 35,000 are due to receive aid soon in water and health-related projects implemented through another partner, Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD).
Meanwhile, 12 tonnes of additional aid – including family shelter assistance - is expected to be distributed mainly to people in the south after safe access is established.