Major Lebanese hospital secures enough fuel for a week

American University of Beirut Medical Centre has said more than 230 patients on respirators would die if fuel shortages forced it to shut down operations

The American University Medical Centre in Lebanon's capital Beirut had warned that fuel shortages would lead to the deaths of patients. AP Photo
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One of Lebanon’s leading hospitals has received enough fuel to maintain operations for about a week, a day after it said fuel shortages were endangering the lives of critically ill patients.

A new supply of fuel will allow the American University of Beirut Medical Centre to run its private generators until Friday, medical centre director Joseph Otayek told The National.

On Saturday, authorities at the hospital said more than 230 patients on respirators would die if it was forced to shut down its operations.

“This is a positive temporary solution, but we need a sustainable one,” Mr Otayek said.

The hospital is among several medical centres in the country that face being forced to close as they run out of diesel.

“AUBMC is facing imminent disaster due to the threat of a forced shutdown starting the morning of Monday August 16, as a result of fuel shortages,” the hospital said on Saturday.

The delivery of diesel came after the Energy Ministry and the central bank agreed to maintain subsidies on the existing supply of fuel currently held by importers.

But the central bank said future imports would be financed at the market exchange rate, after announcing its decision to cut subsidies to protect its dwindling foreign currency reserves.

Mr Otayek said any solution should prioritise the delivery of fuel to vital facilities such as hospitals and bakeries.

“How come we hear of fuel being sold on the black market while hospitals suffer from shortages?” Mr Otayek asked.

He said his hospital was suffering from shortages of more than 3,300 vital items, including medication and equipment.

A quarter of those items are currently out of stock, Mr Otayek said. The hospital is expected to run out of other supplies within a couple of months.

Shortages in fuel, medicine and medical equipment have intensified in recent months after the central bank further rationed subsidies of vital imports as Lebanon’s economic crisis worsened.

The crisis, which began in late 2019, has caused the local currency to lose more than 95 per cent of its market value against the dollar, disrupting the import of vital commodities such as fuel and medication.

Power cuts

The shortages have caused daily hours-long power cuts and frequent disruption to internet access.

The state-run power company has reduced its electricity supply across the country to a maximum of two hours a day.

Diesel shortages have also badly affected the electricity supply from private generators.

Central bank governor Riad Salameh has defended his decision to cut subsidies, saying the bank could only use its mandatory reserves if parliament enacts the necessary legislation.

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Mr Salameh’s move was illegal, but did not convene his Cabinet because he said such a meeting would be a breach of the constitution.

Lebanon has been without a functioning Cabinet for about a year since Mr Diab resigned after the massive Beirut port blast that killed more than 200 people.

Updated: August 15, 2021, 11:02 AM