GENEVA - U.N. aid agencies are mounting a huge relief operation to help tens of thousands of survivors of the devastating explosion Tuesday that ripped through the heart of Lebanon's capital, Beirut.
Latest reports put the number of deaths at about 150, with more than 5,000 people injured.
The United Nations has released millions of dollars from its emergency fund. It also has sent search-and-rescue teams to Beirut to find and extricate survivors from the rubble, and other staff to assess the needs and coordinate relief operations by its affiliated aid agencies.
The World Health Organization has sent more than 2,000 trauma and surgical intervention kits, as well as medicine and medical equipment. It said the challenges of treating the injured and sick are huge as the blast has destroyed three hospitals and partially damaged two others.
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said many patients are being moved to health care facilities outside Beirut for treatment. Social and mental health support are critical needs for traumatized people, he said, but added that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a concern.
"Due to the blast, 17 containers of WHO essential medical supplies were destroyed, with personal protective equipment items completely burnt," he said. "Health care workers treating COVID-19 patients lack this PPE, and hospitals receiving injured patients are overwhelmed and in need of urgent medical supplies as the number of COVID-19 cases in Lebanon was increasing prior to the blast."
Johns Hopkins University reports 5,672 coronavirus cases, including 70 deaths, in Lebanon.
The World Food Program also expressed concern about the spread of this deadly disease in a country where more than 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and has difficulty feeding itself.
WFP noted Lebanon imports nearly 85 percent of its food. The agency's spokeswoman, Elisabeth Byrs, said the Port of Beirut was severely damaged by the explosion, which could limit the flow of food supplies into the country.
"A recent WFP survey on the impact of the economic crisis and COVID-19 outbreak shows ... that food has become a major source of concern for 50 percent of Lebanese, saying that they felt worried they would not have enough food to eat," she said.
WFP is to distribute food parcels to thousands of families affected by the Beirut blast. In addition, Byrs said, the agency plans to import wheat flour and grains for bakeries and mills to help protect against food shortages in the country.