September 4, 2006

UNICEF steps up water supplies to Middle East as war destroys local infrastructure

The month-long conflict in south Lebanon has taken a major toll on water and sanitation systems in the region's communities, a preliminary assessment by UNICEF has found. Relief workers visiting war-affected communities in recent days discovered that underground pipes and other water-related infrastructure had been seriously damaged or destroyed in ten out of 12 of those visited. Similar conclusions have emerged from other assessments: in the district of Tyre, for example, water and sanitation systems in 42 out of 70 villages are reported to have been damaged.

"I have never seen destruction like this," said UNICEF water and sanitation specialist Branislav Jekic. "Wherever we go, we ask people what they need most and the answer is always the same: water."

The acute shortage of clean water could hinder the process of reconstruction. "People want to move back to their communities," said Jekic. "But whether they stay or not will depend on the availability of water."

Ensuring adequate supplies of clean water is also critical to the health of children in the region. "Clean water is central to children's survival and wellbeing right now. We need to get children back into their communities, but to do that they must have a reliable water supply that will not make them sick," said UNICEF Canada president and CEO Nigel Fisher.

UNICEF is responding to this urgent need by stepping up distribution of bottled water in the immediate term. Since the beginning of the crisis on July 12, more than quarter of a million litres of bottled water has been sent to some of the worst-hit communities. The agency is also providing water kits (containing collapsible containers, purification tablets and other items), essential drugs, vaccinations and vitamins for children.

Bottled water provision is being complemented by the installation of large water tanks that better serve community needs. Late last month, 40 rubber water bladders - each with a capacity of 5,000 litres - were delivered to a number of villages along the Israeli border. Two NGOs, Islamic Relief and Mercy Corps, joined forces to deliver and install the tanks, and have committed to ensuring the bladders are kept replenished. As well, OXFAM is providing two 45,000-litre prefabricated metal tanks, which are being sent to the district of Al Khiam.

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