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Lebanon Fears of Epidemics as the Crisis Deepens

The plight of hundreds of thousands displaced by the Israel-Hezbollah conflict is getting worse as Lebanon heads towards severe shortages of fuel// and drinking water amid fears of epidemic outbreaks.

"We are now faced with a major setback - and with the fuel problems increasing, we are soon moving towards a de-facto blockade of the country," said a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office.

Israel's bombing of all the roads north of Beirut used by UN agencies as major supply routes arriving via Syria mean that "we will be faced with empty warehouses soon, and we will be unable to deliver goods to the people in need", said Astrid van Genderenstort.

The Lebanese government's Higher Relief Committee estimates some 800,000 people are now displaced, 130,000 living in public shelters since the Israeli onslaught began July 12.

"Our teams report they are finding people in communal shelters or even construction sites with almost no facilities. They note an overall lack of food, health care. More supplies are needed and more help is a must," van Genderenstort said.

A statement by the UNHCR warned that the funds it was receiving were not enough to help all the displaced so far.

"We asked for $18.9 million for an initial three-month period, but so far we have received only $4.65 million in confirmed donations," an appeal by the UNCHR said.

Paul Sherlock, senior advisor for emergencies on water and sanitary in UNICEF, said: "We fear epidemics, especially in southern Lebanon where, besides the fuel shortage, there's a drinking water problem. The situation is getting desperate.

"People in southern Lebanon have been staying in shelters for so long without water and electricity, and we have reports that some are drinking water from dirty rivers - even children," he added.

"We fear we will soon be faced by epidemics like cholera. There is a serious problem b ecause we are also unable to reach such areas."

UN spokesman in Lebanon Khaled Mansour also expressed concern that the lack of fuel "will bring the country to a halt very soon".

Israel, which has been blockading main ports, has refused to allow the shipment of much needed-fuel, particularly for power plants.

"Fuel is extremely important to hospitals as you know. If there is no fuel, nothing works - refrigerators or water pumps," Mansour said.

Health Minister Mohammed Khalifeh warned that some hospitals across Lebanon faced imminent closure if the fuel crisis continued. Hospitals across Beirut were already cutting power intake in order to save fuel, and patients are being kept with no air conditioning.

"We are really trying to save on power, as we fear that in one week we might close," said a doctor at the Lebanese governmental hospital. "Our problem will be with people suffering serious sickness like kidney failures and cancer.

"Till today we have been managing. But our hospitals in southern Lebanon and in the capital will not last if fuel is not brought in the coming 24 hours," he said.

(Source: IANS)

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