New UN coordinator asks: What would the situation in Lebanon be like without UN assistance?

Sarah El Sirgany
6 Min Read

CAIRO: The commotion stirred up by Hussein Fahmy’s resignation from his post as a UN Goodwill ambassador has overshadowed the organization’s work in providing relief to the Lebanese and diverted attention from their plight.

Maher Nasser, director of the UN Information Center in Cairo, expressed disappointment that people were more interested in the details of Fahmy’s resignation than the plight of the Lebanese people. According to the latest UN reports, 970,000 people were displaced and over 1,000 were killed during the almost-one-month conflict.

In a press conference organized by the UN media center intended to brief journalists on the situation in Lebanon and introduce James Rawley, the new resident UN coordinator, the questions repeatedly came back to Fahmy’s resignation.

Had his contract ended a year before his resignation? Did he cause a domino effect, ending in the resignation of three more Arab Goodwill ambassadors? Was he a beneficiary of the post or was it the other way around?

The questions were endless, leading Nasser to say toward the end that his initial optimism was turning to pessimism. But for the record, Nasser did answer the repeated questions: Fahmy’s contract ended in 2005, his UN-related expenses were covered by the organization and his decision is highly respected.

As for the resignation of the other ambassadors, their stance represents personal views. This doesn’t mean that the concept of “good has been removed from the “goodwill of the United Nations. There are others who have kept their commitment, Nasser explains, and decided to stay at their posts.

None of the ambassadors represented the Security Council, he continues; they worked for the UN’s development program. The commotion has fueled an age-long confusion between the UN’s branches: the Security Council on one side and the humanitarian programs on the other.

The first losers in any goodwill ambassador’s resignation, Nasser adds, are the initial beneficiaries of the program the ambassador was working for.

Fahmy’s claims indicating that the UN, including its humanitarian subsidiaries, had failed to condemn the Israeli aggression on Lebanon, especially in the beginning, were negated by the organization.

In addition to various condemnatory statements issued by high profile UN personnel regarding the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Lebanon, the UN secretary general issued his own, the latest of which was to the Security Council prior to reaching a cease-fire, stating: “All members of this council must be aware that its inability to act sooner has badly shaken the world s faith in its authority and integrity.

With the onslaught of the war, the United Nations sent a flash appeal for $150 million to finance the work of its humanitarian programs in Lebanon. The appeal was later increased to $165 million with $86 million collected from governments around the world.

“The humanitarian community, United Nations and the NGOs, in close partnership with the government of Lebanon are rising to the challenge in not only assessing the needs of the people but also ensuring that aid is sent to the most vulnerable and fast, reads a UN report.

But it is not picture perfect. Humanitarian aid isn’t easy to deliver in a war torn country. One hundred and forty bridges were destroyed during the war. Roads and infrastructure in southern Lebanon were severely hit. “To add emergency relief operations were severely hampered due to denial of ‘concurrence on safety’ [most often from the Israel Defense Force] for land, sea or air movement, states a UN report. And right after the cease-fire was reached, about 700,000 returned to the homes they had left, to find them non-existent.

“The last few weeks showed the imperfections of the United Nations in fast response to crisis, says Rawley.

But what would the situation have been without the United Nations in the picture? Rawley asked the attendees of the press conferences to contemplate the lack of organized humanitarian aid or a mediation of a cease-fire. “What would be the state of affairs if there was no United Nations working on relief efforts? he adds.

There has been some progress. Since the cease-fire 16 convoys, totaling 86 trucks, have already been dispatched to Sidon, Tyre, Rmeish, Tibinine, Hasbaya, Baalbeck and various location in the Beka’ Valley. Aid is also being sent regularly to Beirut via sea and air.

Throughout the war, the World Food Programme has delivered a total of 1,815 metric tons of food to 396,800 people. The UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) has provided essential drugs to some 70,000 people, 688,000 liters of water to some 35,000 people, and 244,800 liters of bottled water to southern Lebanon.

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