UNICEF Warns Millions of Lebanese Face Water Shortages

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Relatives of people who were severely injured in a fuel explosion in northern Lebanon gather outside a Geitaoui hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, last week.
Relatives of people who were severely injured in a fuel explosion in northern Lebanon gather outside a Geitaoui hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, last week.Credit: Hassan Ammar,AP

More than 4 million people in Lebanon could face a critical shortage of water or be cut off completely in the coming days, UNICEF warned, due to a severe fuel crisis.

Lebanon, with a population of 6 million, is at a low point in a two-year financial meltdown, with a lack of fuel oil and gasoline meaning extensive blackouts and long lines at the few gas stations still operating.

"Vital facilities such as hospitals and health centers have been without access to safe water due to electricity shortages, putting lives at risk," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

"If four million people are forced to resort to unsafe and costly sources of water, public health and hygiene will be compromised, and Lebanon could see an increase in waterborne diseases, in addition to the surge in COVID-19 cases," she said, urging the formation of a new government to tackle the crisis.

On Thursday, Hezbollah said they arranged an Iranian fuel shipment to set sail to Lebanon, cautioning its U.S. and Israeli foes against any moves to halt the consignment that it said aimed to ease the acute fuel crisis.

Hezbollah's opponents in Lebanon warned the move could have dire consequences. Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister, said it risked sanctions being imposed on the country.

The arrival of the Iranian fuel oil would mark a new phase in the financial crisis which the Lebanese state and its ruling factions, including Hezbollah, have failed to tackle even as fuel has run dry and shortages have triggered deadly violence.

The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, told Al Arabiya English that Lebanon didn't need Iranian tankers, citing "a whole bunch" of fuel ships off the coast waiting to unload.

The United States was in talks with Egypt and Jordan to help find solutions to Lebanon's fuel and energy needs, she said, speaking hours after Hezbollah's announcement.

Marking the biggest threat to Lebanon's stability since the 1975-90 civil war, the financial crisis has hit a crunch point, with hospitals and other essential services being forced to shut or scale back due to power cuts and the acute scarcity of fuel.

Fuel shortages have worsened since the central bank said last week it would no longer finance the imports at heavily subsidized exchange rates. The government has yet to raise official prices, however, leaving shipments in limbo.

Also last week, at least 28 people were killed and 79 injured when a fuel tank exploded in northern Lebanon. The disaster happened in the town of Altalil, in the Akkar region that is one of Lebanon's poorest areas.

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