Hundreds of patients in Lebanon, including new-born babies on ventilators and other lifesaving medical devices risk dying if hospitals run out of fuel, Amnesty International said on Monday.
The organisation said the Lebanese authorities’ failure to resolve a catastrophic fuel crisis has crippled people’s daily lives and left hospitals hanging by a thread.
The international rights group calls on the authorities to uphold economic and social rights in their response and prioritize the redistribution of fuel to hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which have been on the brink of collapse.
“The Lebanese authorities cannot continue to stand by and watch people’s lives being devastated by the fuel crisis leaving it to private initiatives or NGOs to address crucial humanitarian needs. People’s health and lives have been put on the line as hospitals have drastically cut back operations,” said Heba Morayef, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“The authorities must urgently prioritize health facilities and other life-critical services by redistributing seized fuel stocks to them and implementing court orders ordering them to do so. They must also tackle the thriving black market by blocking smuggling channels, seizing illegal hoarded fuel and holding perpetrators to account.”
On Aug. 11, Lebanon’s Central Bank (BDL) announced it could not continue to subsidize fuel imports, causing gasoline and diesel prices to skyrocket and prompting immediate critical shortages of both on the market.
On Aug. 22, the government announced a 66% increase in gasoline prices – a partial reduction of fuel subsidies – in an attempt to ease the crippling shortages that have brought the country to a standstill.
The shortage of fuel availability on the market has been exacerbated by smuggling of fuel across the border to Syria and hoarding to sell at black market rates. This was confirmed by a BDL communique on Aug. 14, which stated that BDL had spent more than US$828 million on fuel imports in July.
In the same statement, the bank acknowledged fuel had been hoarded and smuggled and was not reaching “households, hospitals and food industries”.
Throughout August, military and security forces announced they had confiscated millions of litres of gasoline and diesel that had been hoarded or stored in preparation for smuggling.
Yet hospital directors at three of Lebanon’s largest hospitals confirmed to Amnesty International the health sector was surviving day to day – unable to secure enough fuel to sustain operations for even for one month.
In August, the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), Rafic Hariri University Hospital (RHUH), and Al Makassed Hospital, issued public distress calls appealing to the government and international agencies for fuel. They said that the fuel crisis had severely damaged their operations and placed their patients’ lives at risk. Despite this, the authorities have failed to ensure they have access to sufficient supplies.
Dr. Joseph Otayek, the Director of AUBMC, told Amnesty International that although a judge had ordered 5,000 liters of confiscated fuel to be delivered to the hospital, they have not received any fuel supply from the army or Internal Security. He said the hospital requires 50,000 litres for its daily operations.
On Aug. 17, Judge Abir Safa had ordered Al Nahr Police Station to deliver 10 thousand liters of fuel confiscated by the authorities to RHUH and AUBMC, 5,000 liters each, at the subsidized price.
“The Lebanese authorities’ failure to comply with a court ruling ordering confiscated fuel to be delivered to all hospitals is shocking. The authorities must do everything within their power to ensure that supplies of fuel seized by security forces are distributed to hospitals and other critical services to allow them to operate in a sustainable manner,” said Heba Morayef.
The Lebanese authorities’ failure to hold anyone account for the smuggling and flourishing black-market trade which involves hoarding of large quantities of fuel in unsafe conditions has had tragic consequences.
To date, dozens people have been killed or injured due to explosions from dangerously stockpiled fuel in residential areas
On Aug. 15, a fuel tank explosion in Tleil village, in the northern district of Akkar, killed at least 31 people and injured dozens with the unofficial death toll still rising. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)