Port Explosion Claims 160 Lives, 6000 Injured, 21 Still Missing, UN Agency Says

223 views | Akanimo Sampson | August 17, 2020

Boxes of personal protective equipment are carried over rubble. © UNFPA Lebanon In response to the horrific explosion that devastated parts of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on August 4, 2020, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Arab States Regional Director, Dr. Luay Shabaneh, and all staff express solidarity with the people of Lebanon and all who were impacted by this disaster.

Latest reports indicate at least 160 fatalities and around 6,000 wounded, with 21 still missing.

This figure is likely to rise as rescuers continue to search the port and surrounding areas for survivors. Preliminary data shows that the explosion impacted an estimated 13 primary health care facilities and between 6 to 10 hospitals.

More comprehensive information will be available as the on-going assessments are completed.

UNFPA is scaling up its efforts to meet the emerging needs of nearly 84,000 women of reproductive age, 48,000 adolescents among the 300,000 who have been displaced due to the catastrophe. An estimated 3,478 women who are currently pregnant will be in need of ante-natal and delivery care services.

UNFPA’s life-saving response will focus on the most immediate needs of the most vulnerable women and girls among the directly and indirectly affected.

As an estimated 300,000 have lost their homes, and as health care facilities have been completely or partially destroyed, we will need to ensure the continuity of life-saving reproductive health care services including maternal health care.

An estimated 84,000 women of reproductive age (15 – 49 years) among those displaced will need support to meet their menstrual hygiene needs and overall sanitation and hygiene needs. As people are displaced and economically suffering, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse pose a serious risk.

And with the active COVID-19 pandemic all service providers need to be protected with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) along with those seeking services.

UNFPA is mobilising all available financial, logistics and human resources to respond to expected repercussions, especially in the areas of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care, by providing medical supplies and equipment.

In addition, UNFPA is scaling up support to partners to address gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual exploitation and abuse, given the increased risks and vulnerabilities during humanitarian crises, and as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

UNFPA is also contributing to the joint rapid assessments of hospitals and primary health care facilities to determine the extent of the damage to sexual and reproductive health and maternity departments.

Efforts are currently focused on procuring medical equipment and supplies for maternity departments and affected health facilities, in addition to supporting the related provision of 25% of procurement requirements for the next six months as identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

To ensure continuity of services, UNFPA will recruit and deploy additional surge personnel including midwives to health facilities at the request of the Ministry of Public Health.

Furthermore, the agency is scaling up SRH service provision through existing and new implementing partners and will avail more health personnel and ensure wider services beyond the immediate sexual and reproductive health needs.

This crisis is further compounded by the existing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNFPA warns of a worsening epidemiological situation due to the mass exodus of people to small crowded areas.

UNFPA plans to purchase 25% of PPE needs for all affected health facilities and to procure Inter-Agency Reproductive Health (IARH) kits to support lifesaving reproductive health services.

Given the traumatic nature of the incident and its repercussions, mental health, psychological first aid and psychosocial interventions will be addressed.

In this regard, UNFPA will engage a team of psychologists to work with IPs in the hope of ensuring that mental health is adequately mainstreamed in the service package.

Even before the explosion, UNFPA and its implementing partners had registered a notable increase in intimate partner violence. The massive economic implications of such large-scale devastation may further exacerbate the risks of gender-based violence.

UNFPA, as co-lead of the inter-agency GBV coordination group, will support a rapid assessment to determine immediate vulnerabilities and needs. Moreover, UNFPA will procure dignity kits targeting the most vulnerable women and girls among the displaced population.  

 UNFPA is appealing for $19.65 million to support these life-saving measures in the coming months.

On August 4, at around 18:00, a warehouse at the Beirut Port containing large quantities of ammonium nitrate exploded. The initial explosion was followed by a much more substantial blast that caused widespread damage, reportedly reaching more than 20 kilometres from the port area.

As of August 11, latest reports reveal that the death toll has reached 220 with over 7,000 injured and more than 300,000 people left displaced with many showing severe psychological distress. These numbers are continually expected to rise as more bodies are recovered from the surrounding wreckage, and dozens are still reported missing.

The blasts sent shockwaves across the city causing widespread damage extending to the outskirts of Beirut, including several primary and secondary healthcare facilities. The National Primary Health Care (PHC) Network Central Drugs Warehouse was severely damaged, as well as 23 PHC Centers, 4 of which were completely destroyed in addition to 6-10 hospitals.

A report by WHO indicates that more than 80 primary health care centres have been severely damaged. Preliminary assessments show that an estimated 15 hospitals were significantly impacted by the blast and a minimum of three have been rendered partially or fully inoperable.

A rapid assessment of 55 primary health care centres found that 37 per cent sustained moderate-to-serious damage. Only 47 per cent of surveyed facilities can still provide full routine health services.

Moreover, 120 schools, used by 55,000 Lebanese and non-Lebanese children, sustained various levels of damage. Humanitarian partners are conducting further damage assessments, in close coordination with relevant government authorities.

The Beirut Port, which processes up to 90 per cent of Lebanon’s imports, is expected to remain inoperable for at least one month, pending repairs, debris removal, and safety clearances. Concerns are growing that damage to the Beirut Port will exacerbate food insecurity, which was already growing amid the COVID-19 pandemic and prolonged socio-economic crisis. All trade activities have been redirected to the Tripoli Port, located about 85 kilometres north of Beirut.

A masked aid worker helps an injured woman limp from a mobile first-aid clinic. Another aid worker, Hiba Kchour, carries hygiene supplies past the shattered husk of a car. Others step over rubble as they distribute boxes of personal protective equipment (PPE) to health ministry workers.

These were some of the first scenes to follow the horrific explosion on August 4, which consumed large swaths of Lebanon’s capital, killing more than 170 and leaving thousands wounded. Dozens are still missing.

The ammonium nitrate blast, and subsequent shockwaves, caused devastation throughout Beirut. Dozens of critical health and medical facilities were damaged or destroyed.

UNFPA is on the ground providing medical assistance, distributing hygiene supplies and providing other critical support in affected areas – including prioritizing women’s reproductive health needs.

“No one has paid attention to women’s basic needs”, said Ms. Kchour, a social worker from Amel Association, who visited women door-to-door to provide assistance.

“After the explosion, they lost everything, even the ability to buy sanitary pads.”

Hundreds of thousands in need

UNFPA is working with partner organizations – including the Akkarouna Association, Amel Association, Al Makassed Association, Lecorvaw, Acted, Lemsic, Al Mithaq Association and INTERSOS – to scale up its efforts on the ground.

UNFPA aims to meet the needs of some 81,000 women of reproductive age, who are among the 300,000 who were displaced due to the catastrophe. An estimated 3,900 women who are currently pregnant will be in need of antenatal, obstetric and neonatal care services in the coming months.

Their health needs are at serious risk.

The Primary Health Care Network Central Drugs Warehouse was seriously damaged, along with more than 80 primary health care centres, according to partners. Preliminary assessments show that some 15 hospitals have been significantly impacted, with at least three partially or totally inoperable.

The crisis comes atop the existing COVID-19 pandemic, which had already infected thousands in Lebanon. In the immediate aftermath of the blast, disaster response needs superseded protective measures, such as social distancing. As a result, COVID-19 cases are expected to increase, with a record peak of 309 cases seen on 11 August. Now, the mass exodus of people to small crowded areas could further exacerbate the spread of the virus.

There is also an acute need for psychosocial support.

“The mental health needs after such a disaster are immense, and the ramifications will be seen for months, possibly years, to come – and in all age groups,” said Dr. Brigitte Khoury, Director of the Arab Regional Center for research and training in mental health at the American University of Beirut.

Dr. Khoury is working with UNFPA to integrate psychological first aid within reproductive health services and programmes for survivors of gender-based violence. “We will be ready to provide more advanced specialised services when and where needed”, she notes.

UNFPA on the ground

Working through its partners, UNFPA is distributing more than 10,000 dignity kits – containing sanitary pads, soap and towels among other items – in the blast-devastated neighbourhoods of Karantina, Al Khanda2 Al Ghami’, Mar Mikhael and Geitawi.

UNFPA’s partners are also expanding reproductive health services, including bringing in midwives and other personnel for door-to-door visits, health care and other essential support. Thousands of boxes of surgical masks, face shields, gloves, medical gowns and other supplies have also been delivered to the health ministry.

UNFPA is also prioritizing services to prevent gender-based violence and provide support to survivors. Women’s and girls’ vulnerability to violence had already increased due to COVID-19 restrictions. Blast-related displacements, disrupted services, economic hardships and rising stresses could worsen the risk of violence and exploitation.

 “Every single woman in the affected areas has greatly suffered as a result of the tragic explosion, whether it is material or property damage, losing a loved family member or neighbour, or having a sense of insecurity or lack of safety, to name but a few”, said Asma Kurdahi, UNFPA’s Head of Office in Lebanon.

“Her basic needs – including menstrual pads – must be fulfilled, allowing her to maintain minimum dignity.”


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