Special Report - Jonathan Erasmus
Political relations in the Middle East are extraordinarily tense, with a fragile ceasfire now in place, following the war between the Israeli army and the Shiite militia Hizbollah in Lebanon.
The war has left the Lebanese refugees’ lives in tatters, with homes, schools, and entire communities in need of rebuilding.
In the south farms have been left untended due to refugees fleeing their homes. The crops are withered and cattle dead. As a result the people now returning to the region are finding themselves not only having to cope with the destruction but also in desperate need of food.
The Ismail family left their home in the southern suburbs of Beirut five weeks ago for a school turned refuge hostel in the city. Women and children at the hostel have been sleeping on classroom floors, with up to 25 in each room, sharing thin foam mattresses one between three, with the men sleeping in the corridors and stairways.
Mother of four Myriam Ismail told me the troubles her family had been though. She said: “We left because we knew the bombing was going to start. The Israelis dropped leaflets telling us they were going to attack. We were told we would be safe in the city so we took what we could and left our home.”
Her husband, Gamal tells me the day before they fled Myriam was taken into hospital to give birth to Taleb, their fourth child. He said: “My wife gave birth one day, we were evacuated the next, and on the third we were in the hostel with our new son.”
Myriam looks embarrassed as he continued: “I am so proud of her she, is an amazing woman.”
Their new-born baby was looked after by doctors at the school and Gamal adds: “Other refugees here have helped us too.”
It has been a tough period for the family but they have survived it. Yesterday I went with Gamal as he returned for the first time to the family home in the south of Beirut. He was anxious about what he was going to be faced with after hearing from friends that the area had been destroyed.
His worst fears were confirmed when we arrived. The bombs had hit his building. From the road he pointed out the apartment he once called home. One side wall no longer remained, we could see inside the living room where washing still hung on a rack behind the sofa. All the windows in the building were shattered and the debris had landed on a car, just yards in front of us.
Gamal looked pensive. This changed to sadness when the realisation of what he was seeing would mean for his family began to sink in. He said: “We can’t come back here. We will have to stay at the school. I hope we can. There is no life here. We have no home and no place to go.”
Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) say they are frustrated by the difficulties they encountered when trying to deliver humanitarian relief to the war-torn region. Figures released by the Lebanese government give an indication of the mammoth task facing aid agencies.
Twenty-five per cent of the population are homeless with 6,900 houses and appartments destroyed. This shocking figure includes 900 factories, markets, farms and other commercial buildings. An estimated 29 airports, ports, water and sewage-treatment plants, dams and electrical installations will need to be rebuilt as well as 23 fuel stations and 145 bridges and over-passes. The cost of repairing the country’s infrastructure is expected to reach $4 billion.