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Situation of displaced in south Lebanon 'unsustainable'

Situation of displaced in south Lebanon by Israeli-Hezbollah fighting 'unsustainable': Officials
3 min read
South Lebanon
24 October, 2023
Officials said that scabies has already emerged in IDP shelters, with risks of further diseases spreading.
The UN has said that over 19,000 people have been displaced in Lebanon due to clashes between Hezbollah and Israel along the Lebanese-Israeli border. [Getty]

The situation of the emergency shelters housing the thousands of people displaced by fighting between Hezbollah and the Israeli army along the Lebanese border is "unsustainable," officials in the southern city of Sour warned on Tuesday, 24 October.

Over 1,000 individuals have taken shelter in three schools in Sour, while an additional 5,000 live in private apartments around the city, with more suspected to be unregistered.

Officials have said poor access to sanitation and medication has already caused a scabies outbreak in shelters, warning against the further spread of diseases under the current conditions.

Humanitarian needs are being met by local organisations which are providing hot meals and essential goods, but more funding is needed to support the growing number of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

"We are living the situation day by day, to be honest. The longer the situation goes on, the less sustainable this becomes," Hassan Dbouk, the head of municipalities in Sour, told The New Arab.

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The UN said on Monday that around 19,000 individuals have been displaced by the two weeks of rocket exchanges between pro-Iran group Hezbollah and Israel along the border. Residents began to flee border towns in the first few days of clashes, fearing a wider escalation, with the flow of displaced residents continuing as Israeli strikes intensified. 

Many of them have fled to the capital city of Beirut or further north to stay with relatives if they are able.

The Lebanese government has created an emergency plan in case of a full-scale war with Israel, with specific zones being prepared to receive waves of anticipated displaced people.

The humanitarian response in Sour, however, the closest large city to the Lebanese border and the largest recipient of IDPs to date, is thus far largely improvised.

Economic crisis compounding displacement

Conditions in shelters are cramped, with up to 15 individuals per room and hundreds of families sharing just eight toilets with no showers available.

Dbouk has warned of the further spread of skin diseases among IDPs and, eventually, the host community, pointing to the emergence of scabies just two weeks into the current conflict.

NGOs have provided the bulk of the humanitarian response in Sour, as the cash-strapped municipality does not even have the funds to pay the salaries of its employees.

While short-term needs like food and water are covered within shelters, other basic supplies are lacking, particularly among those IDPs sheltering in private residences.

"There are a lot of people who have nothing, there are a lot of people who have to keep moving from place to place because there are not enough supplies for them," Abdullah Ghareeb, the mayor of the border town of Dahayrah, told TNA.

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Dahayrah, a town of about 2,000 residents that sits about 100 meters from the border with Israel, was almost entirely depopulated on 17 October after hours of Israeli strikes.

The lack of supplies has forced Dahayrah's residents to journey back to their village to retrieve clothes and other essentials despite the risk of coming under Israeli shelling.

Lebanon is amid a four-year-long economic crisis, with the national currency losing over 98 per cent of its value and two out of three people being thrust into poverty.

The poor economic conditions have intensified the harm of displacement, with IDPs unable to afford new accommodations, clothing or other goods.

The financial crisis has further hamstrung the ability of families to stock up on necessary supplies in preparation for a protracted conflict, as was the case in the over-a-month-long war with Israel in 2006.

It is unclear if border clashes between Hezbollah and Israel will pull Lebanon into a full-scale war. However, the anticipated Israeli ground invasion of Gaza is reported to be a red line for the Lebanese militia.