The explosion in the port of Beirut was so powerful that it registered as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake, and was felt as far away as Cyprus.
International Medical Corps has launched an emergency response, coordinating closely with the government and other responders to quickly provide help to overwhelmed hospitals and health facilities. Our teams continue to mobilize urgently needed supplies and staff, quickly deployed mobile medical units to provide care to affected communities, and continue to provide mental health and gender-based violence prevention and treatment services to those affected by this catastrophe.
Response efforts have been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic (which already was straining the health system), widespread power outages, and economic and political crises that have been affecting millions throughout the country for much of the past year.
International Medical Corps has been on the ground in Lebanon since 2006, providing health services to Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese. We also have been responding to COVID-19 across the more than 50 health facilities we support. Though our offices were extensively damaged by the blast, our team members are safe, have found a new base to operate from and are continuing to work remotely to provide emergency and other services. Thankfully, because our warehouse and vehicles were not damaged, we are able to continue providing medical supplies to those in need.
Frequently Asked Questions
On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, at about 6 p.m. local time, a massive explosion ripped through the port of Beirut, Lebanon, damaging much of the city. The explosion—believed to have occurred in a warehouse storing thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate—was so powerful that it registered as a 3.3-magnitude earthquake in Beirut, and was felt as far away as Cyprus. The port is expected to be inoperable for at least a month, and lost an estimated 120,000 metric tons of food stocks—including wheat, soy and other staples—in the explosion. The blast caused damage as far as 12 miles from the port area, and ensuing fires reportedly released toxic materials into the environment. According to the Governor of Beirut, the blast damaged half of the city and caused $3 billion to $5 billion worth of damages.
How have people been affected?
The human cost was significant as well. According to media reports, the blast killed at least 220 people, injured more than 6,000 others and left approximately 300,000 homeless—at least 100,000 of whom are children, according to UNICEF. Scores of people remain missing. Six hospitals, 20 primary healthcare centers and more than 175 schools, attended by tens of thousands of children, sustained significant damage. And the blast occurred in the midst of a prolonged economic crisis that has led to hyperinflation, frequent power outages, widespread poverty and political turmoil—all complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the strain it has been putting on an overburdened healthcare system.
How was the healthcare system affected?
The damage done to the healthcare system and with the massive influx of patients has severely strained health services in Beirut. A number of city hospitals were so damaged by the explosion that they are unable to treat victims. Remaining hospitals are overwhelmed, limiting the amount of emergency care available in Beirut. Healthcare workers were reportedly among the killed, and nurses and doctors are in high demand. The blast also affected the country’s stores of vaccines, medicines, medical equipment and reproductive health supplies, which were warehoused half a mile from the port, leading to acute shortages of vital medicines.
How is International Medical Corps responding?
With a staff of nearly 300 already in the country, International Medical Corps was able to quickly launch an emergency response, coordinating efforts with international aid agencies, the Ministry of Public Health and other international non-governmental organizations in the country. We have an undamaged warehouse in Beirut, where we store medicine, medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) that we are providing to hospitals and other healthcare centers, and also are providing these facilities with surgical, kits, trauma kits and burn kits. We also deployed mobile medical units (MMUs) to provide a range of health services to affected communities.
Other services we are providing include:
- mental health and psychosocial support, including psychological first aid and medications;
- water, sanitation and hygiene services, including distribution of hygiene kits;
- food security, especially for infants and mothers;
- gender-based violence prevention and treatment services; and
- continuity of care for patients with chronic conditions and other ongoing needs.
How long has International Medical Corps been in Lebanon, and what services do you provide?
International Medical Corps has more than 35 years of experience as a first responder, delivering emergency medical and related services to those affected by conflict, disaster and disease, no matter where they are, no matter what the conditions. We also train people in their communities, providing them with the skills they need to recover, rebuild and return to self-reliance.
We first began operating in Lebanon in 2006, and in 2011 were the first health organization there to begin providing services for Syrian refugees, as the civil war drove them out of that country into Lebanon. Today, International Medical Corps’ health, mental health, and gender-based violence prevention and response activities address the needs of refugees and vulnerable Lebanese at more than 50 facilities throughout the country, including primary healthcare centers, health dispensaries, community centers, social development centers and safe spaces focused on protection. Illustrating our reach, our teams provided healthcare services to approximately 47,000 people, and provided mental health services to 940 people, each month in 2019.
Was International Medical Corps directly affected by the explosion?
Luckily, though some of our staff members were injured by the blast, everyone is expected to recover and is continuing to provide emergency assistance and other specific medical services. In addition, our warehouse and vehicles were not damaged, so we are able to continue providing urgently needed medical equipment and supplies, including medicine and PPE, to health facilities.
Our office in Beirut was extensively damaged, and we have identified a temporary office from which we will operate. However, many of our office assets remained intact, we were able to recover essential equipment and documentation, and we do have other field offices in the country, so we have retained the capability to operate efficiently and effectively in the midst of the destruction.