U.N.: 700,000 Need Aid in Lebanon

There are 700,000 people in need in Lebanon — 550,000 of whom are internal refugees from the fighting, says the chief U.N. relief director. Jan Egeland, the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, says that aid is getting into Lebanon, but it is not yet making it to the places where the fighting is worst. Michele Norris talks with Egeland.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

As we heard a few minutes ago from Mike Shuster, President Bush has ordered helicopters and ships to head for Lebanon to provide humanitarian aid. The White House says now that the evacuation of Americans from the region is almost complete. The U.S. can focus on humanitarian needs.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

To get an assessment of what those needs are, we turn to Jan Egeland, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. This weekend he toured some of the bombing sites in Lebanon and he joins us now from Cyprus.

Mr. Egeland, what is the humanitarian situation in Lebanon now?

Mr. JAN EGELAND (UN Emergency Relief Coordinator): It is a truly critical situation. I was shocked by the level of destruction in Lebanon and by how many tens of thousands of people who flee every day now. We are estimating that 700,000 people are in need of assistance now. 550,000 of those have fled from their homes and I really hope that all of the world will now come to the relief of the Lebanese in their hour of greatest need.

NORRIS: Now you say hundreds of thousands have evacuated. For those who haven't evacuated, those who are still there, what's the situation with water and food and treatment for those who are wounded?

Mr. EGELAND: When I met thousands of those who had fled in schools and in public buildings, in one school I watched 900 people share six toilets. In another school I met the survivors of the village Sharifa in the south. They cried when they said that they hoped that I would be able to facilitate some kind of passage for some of the people to retrieve the dead, because as an old woman told me, we cannot sleep because we believe that the dogs are eating our beloved ones.

NORRIS: You, as I understand, are actually heading to Jerusalem later this week. What's you objective? What do you hope to achieve there?

Mr. EGELAND: What we're hoping to achieve are safe corridors for our aid convoys. We're hopeful to get the first big convoy out of Beirut and down to Tyre, in the south of Lebanon, where the situation is particularly bad, on Wednesday and another big convoy on Friday and then have regular large relief shipments going if we get permission and access every second day from there on.

NORRIS: Without those safe corridors is it possible to deliver supplies and aid to these areas while the fighting is still going on, since the runways are all -

Mr. EGELAND: No, it is not possible. It is not possible. Access has been our number one problem. And ambulances have been shut off. Civilians have been shut off. Aid workers have been hit. I believe the Israeli government when they say that they do not want to hurt the civilian population unnecessarily. What I would tell when I come there is that I've seen horrific, horrific suffering and I'm sure that the Israelis will listen to my eyewitness account.

NORRIS: What is the humanitarian situation in northern Israel right now?

Mr. EGELAND: Well in northern Israel civilians are also dying. There are, however, ten to twenty times more dead and wounded in Lebanon and there are not so many displaced and Israel has a right to defend herself. Israel is rightly reacting to this provocation. But this is a war where the civilian population is paying the price, and Israel must stop this disproportionate attack against civilian infrastructure. Nobody should have that kind of a carnage brought over women and children as I saw in Lebanon.

NORRIS: Mr. Egeland, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. EGELAND: Thank you.

NORRIS: Jan Egeland, he's the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. He joined on the line from Cyprus.

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