Oxfam continues to deliver assistance to people in Lebanon, Gaza and Israel.
Oxfam’s current programme in Lebanon is in direct response to the recent conflict with Israel which resulted in an estimated 800,000 – 900,000 people being displaced from their homes. We are working in several villages in South Lebanon, and also in Mount Lebanon and the Beqaa valley.
Since the cessation of violence agreed in mid-August, the majority of displaced people have been trying to return to their homes. We are therefore focussing our efforts on the public health needs of those returning and those planning to return. There has been extensive damage to water network systems, wells, pumps and generators, exacerbated by disruption of the electricity supply upon which many of the systems depend. Water tanks are desperately needed as many water storage sites have been destroyed. Municipal services have been disrupted, and household waste is accumulating and causing a major health hazard. Many shops have been destroyed or closed, so returning families cannot access basic household items.
Over the next few months we are focussing our efforts in the following areas:
Access to water
Oxfam is working both operationally and through our partner PARD (Popular Aid for Relief and Development), to ensure that at least 52,000 people have access to adequate quantities of safe drinking water. We will be helping to install numerous water tanks, from 45,000 litre ones for municipalities to family-sized ones (1,000 litre), with all the relevant fittings and networks to distribute and store water safely. For the time being these will be filled with water that is being especially trucked in, but we hope to be able to move to longer term arrangements after a couple of months.
We are providing generators to supply electricity to pump clean water and clean out wells that were contaminated, so they can be used again. We are also carrying out regular water testing using independent labs (in Beirut, Tyre and Saida). Where damage to existing infrastructure is light, we will be helping with repairs by providing pipes and technical support.
Accumulating rubbish poses a huge public health risk. Oxfam is involved with hiring waste disposal trucks, as well as trained staff to spray the worst areas. Metal rubbish bins will also be distributed to assist with street collections, and solid waste management kits containing antiseptic cleaning fluid, a long broom, gumboots, a toilet mop and gloves. And to support personal hygiene we are distributing kits both to families returning home and to those stuck in collective centres. These contain soap, underwear, washing powder, towels, toothbrushes and paste, toilet paper, sanitary cloths and lice shampoo. 10,000 Oxfam buckets will be distributed to targeted families to serve as water containers.
In addition to this, we are supporting a partner LPHU (Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union), who are investigating the loss of access to special toilets and bathing facilities by disabled people and are planning to build new ones. We will also help supply them with specialist equipment such as wheelchairs and walking frames, to be distributed to those who lost theirs during the violence.
Some villages are so badly damaged that people have no homes to return to. With the weather about to deteriorate from October, it is vital that everyone has adequate shelter to last them until rebuilding can get underway. Oxfam will be distributing tents to some of the most vulnerable families – lightweight ones that sleep from 6-8 people – and building communal facilities such as toilet blocks and cooking spaces.
Oxfam’s partner organisations in Gaza continue to provide water and sanitation facilities to people who have been affected by recent Israeli incursions. After the bombing of Gaza’s powerplant left thousand of people without access to safe water, Oxfam is working with the Coastal Municipal Water Utility providing six electric generators and water pipes to restore supplies. Oxfam is also replacing destroyed household water storage for 106 families in Um el Nasser as well as providing central Gaza with five mobile water tanks to distribute water to the population whose regular supply has been cut off as a result of the incursions. We also have projects that are improving the amount and variety of food available for 229 families in Gaza.
In August Oxfam sent a team of three experts to Gaza to investigate the effects of Israel's summer offensive in Gaza and to identify areas of emergency need. The team looked at water and sanitation infrastructure, public health needs and the state of food security and livelihoods. The assessment will inform what Oxfam does both in the immediate future and longer term in Gaza.
Since the conflict began, Oxfam has been in close contact with our existing Israeli partners, especially those working in northern Israel. They told us that substantial funds, assistance and expertise were reaching people, and that the Israeli government and local organisations were well placed to meet many people’s needs.
However, Oxfam is assisting Israelis who might fall through the Israeli safety net. For example, Oxfam is concerned for Arab-Israelis and other minority groups living in northern Israel. We are supporting our partners Al Zahraa and Labourer’s Voice to assist people from these communities who have suffered as a result of Hezbollah’s rocket attacks.
The economic impact of the conflict in northern Israel has particularly affected the Arab-Israeli community who live there. About half of the population of northern Israel, around 600,000 people, are Arabs who remained here, or whose parents remained here when the state of Israel was formed in 1948.
Many Arab-Israeli women would normally pick fruit in the summer months from fields near the Lebanese border, and they normally use this income to buy their children’s uniforms and school books for the new school year. This summer, they haven’t been able to pick fruit because of the threat of rocket attacks. Oxfam is supporting Al Zahraa Arab Women's Organisation to provide school uniforms and equipment to school children in the town of Sahknin.
During Hezbollah rocket attacks this summer, government offices in northern Israel that distribute welfare benefits have been closed. Compensation schemes and other alternative arrangements have been put in place by the government but the information and application forms are only in Hebrew. Oxfam partner, Labourer's voice is operating a telephone helpline, offering advice and support in Arabic. They are also placing adverts in the Arabic media so that Arab-Israeli communities are aware of how to claim benefit payments, compensation, and assistance.
Oxfam is in consultation with a number of Jewish Israeli organisations to gather more information about the needs of Jewish emigre communities who may not be receiving support from other sources.
What Oxfam is calling for
Since the conflict began, Oxfam has been calling for an immediate ceasefire on all sides. Now, we want every effort to be made by all parties to ensure that the current ceasefire is maintained on the ground. The situation in Lebanon remains volatile and the ceasefire could still unravel. The international community should not hesitate any longer in providing the support that they have promised in the form of UN peacekeepers to the Lebanese government.