People in South Lebanon living in total uncertainty

Press release: Beirut/Amsterdam, 23 May 2000 - The international humanitarian medical organisation Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) is deeply concerned about the lack of protection for civilians in Southern Lebanon. The on-going violence of the conflict is in extreme proximity to homes and schools. The threat of harm is ever-present and the future uncertain.

"We see a huge increase in stress and anxiety amongst the population. The people are living in total uncertainty about what will happen to them during and after the withdrawal of Israel", said Head of Mission Caroline Taylor. MSF urges all parties in South Lebanon to protect civilian population.

MSF's mental health teams working in the south of Lebanon have found high levels of chronic and acute stress in the communities with whom they work. This indicates how deeply threatened the civilian population feels by the conflict. In addition to casualties and injuries, homes and property have been destroyed and schools have come under fire. Only six days ago, a shell struck an elementary school in the village of Arab Salim during school hours. The children rushed to the downstairs corridors to seek shelter. By chance nobody was injured.

The same school was hit by shelling in December 1999. At that time, 15 children were wounded, three of them seriously. MSF did an extensive psycho-social debriefing with all children involved after each incident.

A practical mental health survey by MSF indicates that 23% of the 124 respondents in the region of Nabatiye reported the loss of a family member in the conflict and 18% reported experiencing the direct bombardment of their home. People's livelihoods and economic opportunities have been severely restricted by the conflict. The continuing threat of harm experienced on a daily basis over many years have contributed to very high levels of stress and anxiety suffered by the civilian populations of southern Lebanon.

MSF's current programme in Lebanon focuses on community based psycho-social care in the areas of Nabatiye and Jezzine in southern Lebanon. The villages are located in close proximity to the conflict. A group of Lebanese counselors working as volunteers has been trained by MSF to provide psycho-social care. The counselors offer support to the inhabitants of these villages and guide them in coping with the violence in and around their villages. Also, MSF runs a training programme in 11 first-aid centres of the Lebanese Red Cross in Southern Lebanon to improve emergency medical care.