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Volume 9, No. 3WINTER 2006

A Lebanon Follow Up with IOCC Regional Director George Antoun

IOCC Lebanon is implementing a $2 million reconstruction program with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for the hardest-hit villages in Southern Lebanon. Photo: Linda Shaker Berbari

IOCC Regional Director George Antoun answers questions on IOCC’s relief and reconstruction efforts following last summer’s cross border conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. Since 2001, IOCC Lebanon has implemented a USDA-funded nutrition and infrastructure repair program for 250 public schools throughout the country. It was this development program that IOCC Lebanon staff used as a platform to deliver emergency aid to the thousands of displaced families that streamed into Beirut last July. IOCC Lebanon is currently implementing a $2 million grant from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for the reconstruction of schools and water networks in 61 of the hardest-hit villages of Southern Lebanon. In addition, IOCC will be assisting about 3,000 of the most disadvantaged families that have returned to these villages.

N&N: How did the destruction from this summer’s crisis compare with Lebanon’s civil war?

ANTOUN: During Lebanon’s civil war, the damage was certainly great, but not to this extent. For example, an apartment would be hit by a shell, but it would still be standing. This summer, however, 4,000 apartment buildings in southern Beirut were completely leveled. The damage was beyond the imagination of many people. N&N: What were the particular challenges for IOCC staff during the conflict? ANTOUN: Israeli war planes were almost constantly in the air and ready to fire on anything they thought was suspicious. They wanted to slow the movement of small vans because they suspected that they could be sending arms shipments to Hezbollah. But we know of small trucks transporting food that were fired upon and where people were injured and killed. So our staff had to go with the knowledge that their trucks could be fired on at anytime. They took IOCC banners and placed them on the roof of the trucks, but the threat was still there.

N&N: How will the IOCC-OFDA program benefit villages in Southern Lebanon?

ANTOUN: First, we are focusing on building and reconstructing schools as soon as possible because we felt that this is what would help people to go back to their villages and to a normal life. The second focus is to provide water and sanitation facilities. People can’t live in a place that does not have running water. Finally, we are providing supplies including hygiene kits and blankets to the most disadvantaged people. We have identified about 3,000 families. These include elderly people living alone and people who have lost family members.

N&N: Tell us how you chose which villages to work in in Southern Lebanon.

ANTOUN: We focused on 61 villages where IOCC has had a presence since 2001. These are the villages that Israel had occupied for 20 years before it left in 2000 and had been out of the reach of the central Lebanese government. Back in 2001, there were only three NGOs working in Southern Lebanon and IOCC was one of them. We had chosen all of the 54 schools in that region for our nutrition and school infrastructure repair program.

N&N: Talk about the problem of unexploded ordinance and how that is affecting IOCC’s work in Southern Lebanon.

ANTOUN: For the time being the Lebanese Army and some specialized NGOs have been able to clear the main roads of unexploded ordinance. But there is a lot of unexploded ordinance in the farmlands and IOCC staff have to be aware of those places. Some have been found in trees, and now it is olive picking season in Lebanon, and we hear of incidents almost everyday.

N&N: What would you say distinguishes the work of IOCC in Southern Lebanon?

ANTOUN: As I said, IOCC was one of the few NGOs that had an infrastructure already in place in Southern Lebanon when the crisis broke out. We know the people. We know the area. We know the best way of doing relief. When we were distributing supplies to displaced families in Beirut, a woman recognized the IOCC logo. It turns out that her children had attended one of the public schools where we have our nutrition program. Immediately she came over and started kissing the workers. “During the peace you were with us,” she said, “and now you are with us in time of war.”

Related Stories:

From Development to Emergency Relief in Lebanon

IOCC Expands Aid To Lebanon Through OFDA Grant

IOCC Delivers Critical Medical Relief To Lebanon

IOCC Shifts Aid To Lebanon's South

IOCC's Network Proves Effective For Lebanon Crisis

IOCC Issues Emergency Appeal For Middle East Crisis


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