UN agencies said Friday they are working full out to assist Beirut’s beleaguered population with food and medical supplies for a country that imports 85% of its food and has had its hospitals badly hit after this week’s lethal blast.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) is working with humanitarian agencies and political authorities for the Beirut crisis, UN Information Service spokesman Rheal Leblanc said at a virtual briefing for Geneva UN journalists.
A fire at a warehouse at the Port of Beirut led to a massive blast on Tuesday, leaving at least 154 dead and around 5,000 injuries and causing massive material damage in several neighborhoods of the capital.
“WFP is concerned that the explosion and the damage to the port will exacerbate an already grim food security situation that has worsened because of the financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lebanon imports nearly 85% of its food,” said Elisabeth Byrs, the spokesperson for World Food Program Geneva Office.
WFP is currently providing 107,000 Lebanese with WFP food e-cards, and that 1 million people in Lebanon are living below the poverty line, Byrs noted.
World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Christian Lindmeier said more than 50% of Lebanon’s total population is vulnerable and below the poverty line, and that the casualty toll could rise.
He stressed that the immediate focus is on the trauma care and the search and rescue as there are still people under the rubble, some of them alive, according to media reports.
“Hospitals are all overwhelmed with injured patients as a result of the blast as we all just mentioned, three hospitals in Beirut are non-functional,” Lindmeier said.
Beirut has 500 beds lost, and casualties have been moved outside the Lebanese capital, as far as possible — to Sada in North Tripoli.
The blast happened in an area that is very poor already with 100,000 vulnerable people, said the WHO spokesman.
“The already weak health system in Lebanon due to the refugee crisis, COVID-19, the economic and political crisis, and the lack of personal protective equipment for health workers is a huge issue,” said Lindmeier.
UNICEF Geneva spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said the UN Children’s Agency estimates up to 100,000 children might be among those whose homes were damaged or destroyed.
“The Assameh Birth and Beyond Pediatric Unit in Karantina Hospital, which had a specialized unit treating newborns who require critical care, was destroyed.
“Sixteen other primary healthcare centers serving some 160,000 people have sustained some damage,” she said.
Also, Mercado said 10 containers of personal protective equipment, including hundreds of thousands of gloves, gowns, masks, just procured by the Health Ministry for the COVID-19 response were destroyed.
Olga Algayerova, the executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), said: “UNECE stands ready to share its expertise and experience developed through years of cooperation on improving the safety of the management of industrial facilities and the storage, transport and handling of dangerous substances.”
She said the Beirut blast was the latest in a string of accidents involving ammonium nitrate, such as the fertilizer plant explosions in Texas (2013) and the Tianjin explosions in China (2015), and a deadly blast in Toulouse in 2001, among others.
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