WHO in Lebanon: A first-hand account
«At 8 am, I start my day by participating at an
Inter-Agency meeting where the UN discusses the
work and challenges of the day. We share information
and we coordinate our operations. My day finishes
between about 8 and 10 pm, as is the case for
everyone here working on the Lebanon crisis.»
«There are places I go quite regularly: the port and the airport in Beirut for example, as I need to pick up WHO’s supplies or equipment. I am also in charge of reception of phones and IT for WHO staff. It is critical that they have the equipment they need to get the work done.»
«The road for the airport is quite dangerous as it is situated in the south of Beirut. We cannot move without full security clearance. As logisticians we simply need to go there.»
«One of my rewarding days was this past Sunday. WHO and other agencies went to Zahle, in the Bekaa Valley. Previously, we had been to the South (Tyre, Jezzine and Saida), but it was the first time that the UN was able to reach this community in the Bekaa Valley.»
«They welcomed us so warmly; it was a special moment for me.» WHO delivered 500 kilogrammes of medicines to the main hospital. «One of WHO’s strengths is to make choices according to the needs. We had been told people in Zehle needed medication for chronically-ill people. We brought that to them.»
«Now, I have regular contact with the Director of the hospital. He informed me that he distributed the drugs to Public Health Centres and he sent another list with drugs that are missing.»
José notes that it’s important to build networks, and show what WHO is doing. «It’s not always that obvious for the locals as many NGOs and UN agencies are present in the field.»
José is also proud that WHO now has its own 650 m2 warehouse. «It offers enough space to store complete medical kits, bulk drugs and small donations.» This week, a cooling system was installed which allows better preservation of drugs and vaccines. Other agencies can also take advantage of the warehouse to store their medicines and vaccines.
As a logistician,José says it’s frustrating to spend hours coordinating and preparing for a convoy and to learn a few hours later that everything is cancelled or postponed due to the constantly changing security environment. But he remains motivated and focussed.
«What drives my work?» It is the feeling that through our efforts we contribute to improving the current situation, saving lives and assisting those in need.» José also stresses how important it is to be connected to Geneva through the SHOC room. «You know you can count on the team 24 hours/ 7 days a week. You can expect to get answers to your questions quickly.» He also praises the excellent collaboration with WHO offices in Damascus and Amman.
«You cannot dream of more in terms of back-up and support,» he said. «The same thing applies to EMRO. They are there, responsive and present.»
«The Lebanese crisis is quite different from the ones I have worked on in the past. Lebanon has a good network and is well organized. It has a sophisticated infrastructure, though it has suffered a lot of damage. The health sector includes highly trained, professional people. They are mobilized and committed to get things done.»
«They do need assistance to deliver relief aid. Our lorries are well-marked with our flags and we can sometimes have access to places where they can’t.»
This week, José and his colleagues are organizing a convoy to Baalbek and Hermel (centre and north of the Bekaa Valley). «These are places with major needs, especially for the people who are internally displaced. It is our responsibility to help them have access to health services and supplies.»