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French Version

Aid begins to flow, but distribution is a problem

Billions needed to rebuild shattered lives

Arab and other foreign countries have reached into their pockets to help Lebanon heal the wounded, feed the displaced and secure temporary shelters for the more than 700,000 refugees who fled the massive Israeli attacks.

The Finance Ministry quickly created accounts in Lebanese, dollar- and euro-denominated currencies to raise urgent funds for the victims of the war which, it is estimated, has so far left over 600 civilians killed, thousands wounded and billions of dollars worth of destroyed properties and infrastructure.

The government created a High Relief Committee to receive medical and food supplies in addition to blankets, mattresses and tents from different organizations and then distribute them throughout Lebanon.

The refugees, who left their homes in a hurry, are currently staying in schools and public buildings in Sidon and Beirut and mountain towns in the Chouf and other areas.

Finance Minister Jihad Azour told The Daily Star that money is pouring in from different sources, noting that many organizations have pledged additional funds to the new accounts.

"Saudi and Kuwaiti citizens donated $75 million in cash to the new account and there are more countries and agencies that have made strong commitments to give us additional funds," Azour said.

The United States, the European Union, France and other countries have also issued financial pledges to Lebanon since the war started.

The minister said that the High Relief Committee is channeling the bulk of the humanitarian aid to the more than 170 organizations and NGOs who are catering to the thousands of internally displaced.

Seventeen days of war have nearly emptied most of the villages and towns in the South of the country, as well as the southern suburbs of Beirut.

The Saudi government has pledged a donation of $500 million for reconstruction and another $1 billion to be deposited in the Central Bank to ease pressure on the Lebanese pound.

A Saudi television appeal raised at least $50 million for Lebanon. The money gathered during the day-long telethon, which lasted until the early hours of Thursday, included 10 million riyals ($2.67 million) from King Abdullah and 5 million riyals from Crown Prince Sultan, the official Saudi Press Agency.

The UAE and Kuwaiti televisions also invited Gulf Cooperation Council citizens to help Lebanon either with cash or other humanitarian aid.

The International Committee of the Red Cross Friday appealed for 100 million Swiss francs ($81 million) to help the victims of the war in Lebanon.

But among the problems facing relief agencies was delivering the essential aid to areas in the South that are coming under intense Israeli bombardment.

Some reports said that dozens of villages in the South are totally cut off.

Azour said that apart from the humanitarian aid pouring into Lebanon, the government is counting on a donor conference that aims to raise money for the reconstruction of Lebanon.

It is not clear how much the war has caused in terms of material damage but some observers say that the figure is close to $3 billion and rising.

"The government is assessing the damages from the war but it is hard to give any figure as long as fighting is continuing," Azour said.

Beirut 29-07-2006
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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