Fuel shortages threaten hospital services

A child at Zahra’ Hospital, Bir Hassan, southern suburb of Beirut, 27 July 2006). (Dina Debbas /IRIN)

BEIRUT - Lebanese officials have said that hospitals are threatened with closure as a result of severe fuel shortages nationwide.

“Hospitals are currently functioning properly, but their fuel reserve can [only] last for one week,” Lebanese Health Minister Mohammed Khalife told IRIN.

Lebanon is tapping into its fuel reserves to supply some hospitals, but the real issue is the difficulty in transporting the fuel around the country, Khalife said. Bombed roads and bridges are making access to some areas of Lebanon almost impossible.

Israel launched its military offensive in Lebanon and imposed an air, land and sea blockade after the capture on 12 July of two Israeli soldiers by the armed wing of Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party. The conflict has cut off Lebanon from its normal imports of fuel supplies, and made it difficult to distribute the remaining fuel within the country.

With Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s threatening on Monday to escalate attacks on infrastructure, the situation has become more critical.

Nabil Jisser, a member of the Lebanese Higher Relief Council (HRC) - a government body set up specifically to manage relief efforts in this conflict - said that fuel reserves can only last another 10 days at the most. Lebanon needs more fuel from abroad, he said.

The HRC has made arrangements to get fuel supplies from Syria, Jordan and Turkey, by sea, he said. Sea transport requires approval from Israel, however, to ensure safe passage.

“Hospitals have started reducing their services to treating severe injuries and war injuries,” said Suleiman Haroun, president of the Lebanese Hospitals Syndicate. “Hospitals that used to treat 100 patients at a time, for example, are now reducing there number to 50.”

If fuel shortages continue, he said, “Hospitals would be forced to close, leaving patients, including hundreds of injured people, with no proper medical treatment.”

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