25 April 1996

Press Briefing



Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Yasushi Akashi briefed correspondents today on the humanitarian situation in Lebanon. Mr. Akashi said the Secretary-General had wanted him to brief journalists about humanitarian assistance to Lebanon.

Beginning 11 April, he said, Lebanon had again been plunged into a major crisis which had created a tremendous humanitarian crisis involving at least 400,000 displaced persons, or one eighth of the total population there. On 18 April, the United Nations headquarters of the Fiji contingent was the target of Israeli artillery causing the death of 102 civilians. On two subsequent occasions, two United Nations vehicles were also targeted, fortunately resulting in no casualties.

He said that as soon as the Lebanese Government approached the United Nations, the response had been rapid and effective. There had been very good communication and cooperation between New York, Geneva and Beirut. For instance, on 19 April, the United Nations started mobilizing emergency humanitarian goods. By 6 p.m., the bidding for the hiring of aircraft was closed in Geneva, and by 9 p.m., a contract was awarded and flights were arranged for the next morning. Help from the Italian Government made it possible to ship blankets, water tanks, health kits and other humanitarian materials to Beirut. The Swiss Government provided emergency personnel. Since that time, the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as other concerned United Nations agencies, have been hard at work.

In response to a request by the Lebanese Government, a flash appeal for funds for basic supplies, such as food, water and medical kits, had been issued, Mr. Akashi said. Those amounted to $8.5 million, of which $4.5 million had already been collected. There had also been a gratifying response by some Member governments, in particular Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, the European Community, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Of United Nations agencies, the World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had been extremely active. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had been also involved. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had provided logistics and protection for the displaced.

He said access to the South was becoming extremely precarious, even dangerous. The roads had been cut off, and there was tremendous difficulty in transporting humanitarian supplies. He had met with the Lebanese Minister of Health on 24 April who had expressed complete satisfaction with the assistance provided by the United Nations and the humanitarian community. However, he also had expressed concern about the long-term effects of the crisis. The country was in the process of rebuilding, but the plunge into a new crisis had depressed the Minister of Health about Lebanon's prospects. In addition to emergency assistance, the United Nations was planning for medium- to long-term needs for rehabilitation and subsequent development.

Turning to a question by a correspondent about whether Mr. Akashi had just put behind him the humanitarian aspects of trying to deliver aid when combatants were blockading convoys and deliveries, and peace-keepers were put in the line of shelling, Mr. Akashi -- referring to his previous post as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Former Yugoslavia and Chief of the Mission of the United nations Protection Force -- said his mission there was essentially humanitarian; that United Nations peace-keepers were in the former Yugoslavia in order to facilitate and protect humanitarian activities and convoys. He did not feel at all that he was now in "a strange, new land". He added that while peace-keeping of the gigantic proportions of operations in Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia may, in the next few years, tend towards a descending curve, humanitarian challenges would simply continue to mount. He was gratified by the degree of cooperation and coordination between United bodies, as well as the non-governmental community.

When asked about the problems of access in Lebanon, he reiterated that the roads leading from Beirut to the South were constantly faced with the danger of bombardments, causing considerable risk. Even if the goods were transported to Beirut or to the northern part of Lebanon, they might not be able to reach the targeted population in dire need. To a follow-up about the number of people who might be cut off from supplies, he said approximately 10 per cent of the 400,000 displaced persons might well be in areas where access was difficult or impossible, including those people housed in UNIFIL compounds.

Asked whether there was any guarantee by Israel that there would not be any repetition of the last situation, Mr. Akashi said he was not aware of any such guarantees. Asked for his reaction to the shelling and rocketing that appeared to be continuing today in and around UNIFIL compounds in southern Lebanon, he said he deplored any such attacks on United Nations premises, which were protected and given absolutely immunity under international law. To hinder humanitarian activities which were neutral and non-political could not be condoned.

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For information media. Not an official record.