Resources diminishing fast in Lebanon

Marketplace Staff Aug 10, 2006

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s much too soon to say there’s a deal, but diplomats at the United Nations are saying today there could be a ceasefire in Lebanon by tomorrow afternoon. Israeli leaflets dropped on Beirut today warned residents to leave or be bombed. Any pause in the fighting would be welcome news to Lebanese who are running short of pretty much everything. Ben Gilbert reports help is just over the horizon, but it’s not getting any closer.


BEN GILBERT: In a building in downtown Beirut, hundreds of tired looking bureaucrats are working ’round the clock at government’s Higher Relief Council. Their job is to keep aid supplies coming in and essential services running. Wissam Zahabi works on the most important service that’s in jeopardy right now, electricity.

WISSAM ZAHABI: “We’re in a bad situation. We’re having electricity rationing, and in some areas we have four hours, on others we have six.”

Wissam Explains that electricity is short because early in the war Israel knocked out one of Lebanon’s five power plants, along with much of the fuel oil and Diesel supplies. These two products power electrical stations around the county. And Zahabi says the reserves won’t last long.

ZAHABI:“Probably depends on rationing, severe case, not more than one week probably, not more than one week.”

Zahabi is frustrated because there are two tankers in Cyprus filled with more than 80 million gallons of fuel. They’re supposed to come to Lebanon. But the Greek ship Aphrodite and the Norwegian owned Tom Gunhill, aren’t moving despite several guarantees.

The US Navy offered to escort the ships. The Lebanese government guaranteed their safety. And the Israeli Defense Forces e-mailed the United Nations saying they would not attack the ships. But they’re still docked in Cyprus awaiting formal written assurances from Israel.

TOM GUNHILL:“We don’t have yet safe passage, and captains are refusing to enter into Lebanese waters.”

But there is hope. Syria is sending some energy over transmissions lines to Lebanon. And Algeria has dispatched an empty tanker to Cyprus to offload the fuel and take it to Lebanon. But until it arrives, the situation continues to deteriorate.

George Tomey, the vice president of American University in Beirut, and he says the school’s hospital is facing a critical shortage of fuel.

GEORGE TOMEY:“It’s not like a shop where you can close up and go home, if you want to close hospital you have to discharge the patients properly. But what about patients on respirators and critical care areas, it’s a very, very sad situation.”

Tomey says if the fuel runs out, heart monitors will not work, surgeons won’t be able to operate, and refrigerated drugs will spoil. Similar situations could develop at hospitals around Lebanon.

The World Health Organization has warned that if fuel doesn’t arrive soon, up to 60 percent of country’s hospitals will have to close at a time of rising casualties.

In Beirut, I’m Ben Gilbert for Marketplace.

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