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Concern for wellbeing of children following explosions in Beirut

UNICEF concerned children among the casualties after massive explosion in Beirut.

Some 80,000 children have been displaced by the Beirut explosions, according to UNICEF estimates, with families affected in desperate need of support. 

The explosions on Wednesday morning (NZT) left 140 people dead, 5000 injured and hundreds missing. UNICEF is concerned that many children have suffered trauma and remain in shock. There are numerous reports of children who have been separated from family members, some of whom are still missing. 

Kiwi aid worker Luciano Calestini, who was UNICEF Lebanon’s Representative for five years until 2017, said he was deeply saddened by the events.

“Beirut was my home for nearly five years. It is an extraordinary place, and like millions around the world I am profoundly saddened by the terrible scenes of destruction emerging across the city.”

Beirut Explosion, August 5 2020
Beirut Explosion, August 5 2020

“The resilience of the Lebanese people is legendary. But after emerging from a devastating 15-year civil war, enduring the impact of years of tragic conflict next door in Syria, suffering through a crushing economic downturn, and then facing the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, this latest catastrophe will test Lebanese resilience to its limits.”

“And as always, children are at the highest risk of neglect and deprivation. So now is not the time to simply remember the people of Lebanon. Now is the time for action, to do whatever possible to help. Every single one of us.”

The port of Beirut – where the explosion took place – is the main lifeline of the country. It is now totally destroyed.

At least 12 primary healthcare facilities, maternal, immunisation and newborn centres in Beirut have been damaged, impacting services for nearly 120,000 people. A children’s hospital in the Karantina area, which had a specialised unit treating critical newborns, was destroyed. One newborn died.

The remaining operational hospitals are overstretched and have been depleted of critical medical supplies. Ten containers stocked by the Ministry of Public Health, containing personal protective equipment, were destroyed. Five out of seven UNICEF-supported vaccine cold rooms were destroyed in the blast, affecting critical vaccination programmes.

Beirut Explosion, August 5 2020
Beirut Explosion, August 5 2020

UNICEF’s team in Beirut has not been spared. One UNICEF staff member lost his spouse, seven other staff were injured while dozens of staff had homes damaged. 

UNICEF is working with partners to support affected children and their families. UNICEF has distributed drinking water to frontline responders and those living in the directly affected location around the Beirut port. They have conducted preliminary assessments on warehouses, schools, cold rooms, water infrastructure and health facilities, including hospitals and specialist intensive care units for newborns. An estimated 90 per cent of stored vaccine supplies were able to be rescued from the damaged warehouse in the port.

Child protection partners are providing counselling to affected children across the city. Over the coming days, UNICEF will increase efforts to reach families in need with much needed assistance.

The catastrophe in Beirut adds to what has already been a terrible crisis for the people of Lebanon, compounded by an economic collapse and a surge in Covid-19 cases. The pandemic already meant that hospitals are overwhelmed, and frontline workers are exhausted. In the past 48 hours, 464 new cases of COVID-19 were registered.

UNICEF New Zealand Executive Director Vivien Maidaborn said the world needed to rally behind Lebanon during this difficult time.

“Our hearts are with children and families affected by the horrific explosions in Lebanon, especially those who lost their loved ones. We’re sending aroha to the injured.”

“We are on the ground and will do everything possible to provide much needed assistance today and in the long run.”