Special Report - Jonathan Erasmus
It is as ever the Lebanese people who are paying the highest price with aid agencies here having estimated 650,000 refugees returning south, and approximately100,000 of those in urgent need of aid, a figure far beyond Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s estimate of 15,000.
But contradiction and confusion has surrounded the aid operations with uncertainty of figures due to varied UN, government and Hizbollah reports, and a lack of local assistance in gathering reliable information.
The Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are confronted with exaggeration and individual agendas on a daily basis with information on village populations, the needs of the communities and what is already being supplied changing from meeting to meeting.
One of the main problems is Hizbollah wanting to be seen to be the majority provider of aid as it ensures international recognition and sympathy, while retaining Lebanese support.
But aid agencies know the support Hizbollah is providing is limited. If Hizbollah believe there are 15,000 people in need, they provide for 15,000 people. This leaves a speculated 85,000 people without provision.
The aid agencies believe from their own information, these people exist, and they know they have the resources to help, but they need to have the compliance of Hizbollah to access key areas.
But Hizbollah’s aid functions on its own terms, and with the control Hizbollah has over vast regions of the south it effectively controls the movement and capability of the NGOs also trying to help people in the
region. The result is external aid has to function on Hizbollah’s terms unless the NGOs can somehow use diplomacy to convince Hizbollah to allow them to work without constraints.
Bureaucracy is hampering the efficiency and efforts of the NGOs by Hizbollah’s insistence on implementing politics in aid through not revealing the true extent of the problems in Lebanon.
The equation is simple, if Hizbollah won’t accept the extent of the need, they will not allow the NGOs to provide the required aid and tens of thousands of people will continue to suffer through a lack of food, water,
medical treatment and shelter.
Speaking to an aid worker, who did not wish to be named, he told me that he had been in a meeting with the Mayor of a village near Tyre, to establish what help was needed. But a Hizbollah representative was in the meeting and controlled the Mayor “almost like a puppet master”.
He said: “We proposed bread being made in the village by the locals with us supplying everything to do it, but we were told it wasn’t needed.”
“Yet when we left the meeting, there was a woman outside shouting at an official in the building, telling him her family had no food and no water. And when we spoke to locals they all told us they needed food desperately.”
In addition to the difficulties with the politics of aid here, the NGOs face physical dangers on the ground. Volunteer workers are unsure of their personal safety and the safety of the refugees after the organisation Mine Clearance International revealed earlier this week that thousands of unexploded bombs litter huge areas of South Lebanon.
If aid workers are not watching the skies for planes to appear again with the uncertainty about the ceasefire, or not watching the ground to prevent standing on an unexploded bomb, they are fighting an infuriating
bureaucratic battle just for the opportunity to help those in need.