UN warns of humanitarian crisis after Beirut blast

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Media captionThe explosion caused huge damage to the port and surrounding areas of Beirut

UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon after Tuesday’s devastating blast in Beirut.

Lebanon was already suffering a major economic downturn before the explosion, which left at least 154 people dead, 5,000 injured and 300,000 homeless.

The World Food Programme said the damage to Beirut’s port would interrupt food supplies and push prices up.

The World Health Organization said the health system was seriously damaged, with three hospitals out of action.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s president rejected an international investigation into the explosion, and said officials would examine whether it was triggered by a bomb.

“The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” Michel Aoun said.

Mr Aoun has previously said the blast was the result of the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely at a port warehouse.

Before Tuesday’s explosion, 75% of Lebanese were in need of aid, 33% had lost their jobs, and one million people were living below the poverty line.

WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva on Friday that the organisation was concerned the severe damage to Beirut’s port – the largest in the country – could limit the flow of food supplies and push prices beyond the reach of many.

The WFP was sending 5,000 food parcels that would be enough to feed a family of five for a month, and was planning to import wheat flour and grains, she said.

Christian Lindmeier of the WHO meanwhile warned that Lebanon’s hospitals were overwhelmed with the patients, some were damaged and some non-functional, and that 500 beds had been lost.

More on the explosion in Beirut

The WHO has delivered emergency trauma and surgical supply kits containing essential medicines and medical supplies, and is calling for $15m (£11.5m) to cover immediate needs and ensure continuity in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lebanon was also seeing a rise in cases of the coronavirus disease but 17 containers of masks, gowns and gloves, shipped to Beirut by the WHO, had been completely destroyed, Mr Lindmeier said.

The UN Refugee Agency, which normally supports Lebanon’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees, said it was releasing emergency shelter materials to all those in need.

Many countries have offered aid to help Lebanon, with the US announcing on Friday that it planned to immediately send $15m worth of food and medicine.


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