Travelling the road to ruin in Lebanon - Part two

In the second part of a two-part blog, WFP spokesperson Peter Smerdon accompanies an aid convoy to south Lebanon, and sees the destroyed homes that returnees are coming back to.

In the second part of a two-part blog, WFP spokesperson Peter Smerdon accompanies an aid convoy to south Lebanon, and sees the destroyed homes that returnees are coming back to.

East of Tyre, Hizbollah steps up its propaganda drive with signs in Arabic, French and English.

A crater in the road is marked with a yellow sign in French, saying: “C’est la victoire du Sang (It’s the victory of blood).”

We need food, drinking water and electricity

Dr Ali Bazz

Banners in English use irony: “It’s your democracy.”

Hizbollah flags multiply the deeper the convoy pushes into its stronghold.

Near Tibnine, five of the WFP trucks drive into the yard of a large school with virtually all its windows smashed from the blast of a projectile that crashed into the ground outside, destroying two cars a few metres away. Shrapnel hit one wall of the school.

Volunteers

As workers sweep up glass shards, about a dozen high-spirited volunteers unload the food and start transferring it to pickups, small vans or tractors with trailers, to be distributed to people in need in the area by the Tibnine municipality. The operation takes several hours.

In the shade of a tree, the municipality representative signs and stamps the WFP waybills for 36 tons of wheat flour, five tons of canned beef and five tons of canned vegetables.

The canned beef and vegetables are a gift of Germany, the wheat flour from various donors.

He also makes the point that while the community is grateful for the food, now is the time when everyone is finally returning home to the area so they need more from WFP.

Up into the hills

From Tibnine, the lone remaining truck climbs into the hills with the two escort vehicles.

The amount of damage visible from the road sharply rises with burned-out cars scattered in the streets, blasted businesses and apartment blocks, and the power lines down.

A sign announcing “Welcome to Bint Jbeil – the capital of Liberation” still stands, unlike many of the buildings in the centre of the town and in the narrow streets to the south, where the heaviest fighting between Hizbollah and the Israeli Defence Forces took place.

Damage

A large Israeli shell that failed to explode lies in the road on the main street, cordoned off with flimsy tape.

It appears as if every building was hit by more than one blast. Most look uninhabitable without major repairs.

Every second building has been flattened or partly collapsed.

“It was like a terrible tornado hit here. I lost five shops. They’re all gone,” says one man, who declined to give his name but said he was trapped in Bint Jbeil for 15 days from the start of the conflict on July 12. As he speaks, a shell explodes in the distance.

Starting from scratch

The man shudders. “It’s not safe here. You hear all sorts of strange sounds, even at night” he says.

“I’ve got a U.S. passport and I’ve sent my family away and I’m going back there as soon as I can. It’s all finished here, it’s over. I’ve just got to start again from scratch.”

From other similar explosions near Bint Jbeil it appears that in fact the blasts are controlled explosions by UN troops disposing of some of the thousands of projectiles and cluster bombs in the south that failed to explode on impact. The clean-up could take years.

The municipality finally finds five men to unload the four tons of canned meat and four tons of canned vegetables from the WFP truck into the basement of an apartment building in southern Bint Jbeil used as a temporary store for aid from UN agencies and Arab donors.

Returnees find homes wrecked

“We need food, drinking water and electricity,” says Dr. Ali Bazz, who signs for the food, which will be combined with other donations before being distributed to those most in need.

“So far 2,000 of the 10,000 people who used to live in Bint Jbeil have returned,” he said.

Others came to see their homes and if they were wrecked went to stay with friends and relatives, putting pressure on their hosts until some reconstruction can begin.

Others, if they can afford fast-rising rents have moved away as far as Beirut or the mountains to the northeast.

They go anywhere where they will have the possibility of building a new life following the conflict.