When Israeli bombs fell on southern Lebanon, rescuers rushed in dilapidated trucks without protective equipment, one of the many examples of the lack of preparation in the country which fears the extension of the conflict.
“We are on the front line, and yet we have no equipment to protect ourselves and save people,” says Anis Abla, head of the civil defense of Marjayoun, less than 10 km from the border with Israel.
From his prefabricated office, he says he cannot afford to buy helmets or bulletproof vests for his team of 37 people, most of them volunteers.
Since the attack by Palestinian Hamas against Israel on October 7, exchanges of fire have been almost daily at the border. The pro-Iranian Hezbollah and its allies claim to bomb Israel in solidarity with Hamas, but the skirmishes remain limited for the moment.
In the midst of economic collapse for four years, Lebanon fears being drawn directly into the conflict. The country is ill-prepared to face a war, leaving volunteers and NGOs to fill the void with limited resources.
“If war breaks out, we may not be able to provide enough water for our trucks or food for our teams,” says Abla.
With the bankrupt state only providing electricity for a few hours a day, water pumps barely work and fire trucks have limited access to water, says civil defense chief Hussein Fakih from the southern region of Nabatieh, which includes Marjayoun.
A serious handicap for the firefighters who must put out the fires which break out due to the almost daily Israeli bombings on the region.
“Our most recent vehicle is around thirty years old,” laments Mr. Fakih, adding that fire trucks regularly break down. “If the situation worsens […] we will not be able to accomplish all our tasks. »
Cross-border clashes have left at least 62 dead in Lebanon, according to an AFP count, most of them Hezbollah fighters, and pushed nearly 29,000 people to flee their homes.
A few kilometers from Marjayoun, Hasbaya welcomed hundreds of displaced people, some 150 of whom were installed in an unfinished hotel, according to the mayor of the locality, Labib al-Hamra.
The local authorities, who lack everything, had to rely on remittances from Lebanese in the diaspora, associations and donors to rehabilitate the hotel and provide the displaced with mattresses, food and medicine, assures the mayor. .
“My biggest fear is to see a repeat of the 2006 scenario, but worse,” says Mr. al-Hamra.
“Today, the Lebanese state is not prepared to face this kind of calamity,” he assures.
In 2006, a war between Hezbollah and Israel left more than 1,200 dead in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 dead in Israel, mostly soldiers.
“Our state is dead”
The interim government has developed an emergency plan, and talks are underway to “ensure that the humanitarian community contributes” to its financing according to Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Mr. Mikati assured AFP on Monday that he was doing everything possible “to ensure that the State and its modest means are ready” in the event of conflict.
Health Minister Firas Abiad stressed that Lebanon faces unprecedented obstacles.
“In 2006, we did not have problems with medicines and medical supplies, we did not have a brain drain of health professionals or a stifling economic crisis,” Mr. Abiad told AFP.
He indicates that the ministry needs 30 to 40 million dollars for the emergency plan it has developed, adding that “Lebanon is doing everything possible to increase its level of preparedness”, despite having “much more limited” resources. .
But many Lebanese have lost confidence in their country’s ability to protect them.
Among them, Ali Khalil Awada, 74, took refuge in the Hasbaya hotel with his wife in a narrow and barely furnished room.
He has already been displaced from his border village of Khiam several times during the civil war (1975-1990), the Israeli occupation of the south (1978-2000) and the 2006 war.
But this time, “it’s the worst,” according to him.
“Our state is dead… and our economy is gone,” he laments. “We can’t even afford to buy bread.”