Lebanon’s top hospital starts electricity rationing amid power cuts

The country’s crisis has led to daily power cuts lasting ‘more than 21 hours a day’ leaving even vital infrastructure struggling to keep the lights on

A medical staff member, wearing protective gear, stands at an intensive care unit for patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, in Beirut, Lebanon January 19, 2021. Picture taken January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Emilie Madi.  NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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Lebanon’s top public hospital is now rationing electricity and has turned off air conditioning despite rising summer temperatures, its director said, as long power cuts and a severe economic crisis brings the healthcare sector to its knees.

Firass Abiad, who heads the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, shared on Twitter a request he sent to the caretaker Energy Minister pleading for the hospital to be spared long electricity cuts as the national grid struggles to provide even a few hours of electricity a day in many areas.

“We have decided to stop using air conditioning, except in our medical units, despite the heatwave,” Mr Abiad said. “We are truly in hell.”

Since the end of the civil war in the 1990s, Lebanon has suffered daily power cuts without the capacity to generate enough electricity. Beirut’s regular three-hour a day rolling outage has deteriorated in recent months amid fuel shortages and after a Turkish company that operated power-barges pulled the plug because of unpaid bills.

The fuel shortages extend to diesel for private generators and even petrol for cars.

“Electricity cuts last more than 21 hours per day. There is no fuel for our generators and even when we do find fuel we have no liquidity to buy it,” Dr Abiad tweeted.

He told The National he is hoping the state can provide 14 or 15 hours of electricity per day to sustain the hospital.

For years, Lebanon has been a medical centre for the Middle East with people from across the region seeking treatment in renowned Beirut clinics.

But, the economic crisis affecting the country has not spared the medical sector with doctors and nurses emigrating abroad as they see the value of their wages plummet and the costs of goods rise.

The Lebanese lira has lost more than 90 per cent of its value in just over a year and the crisis has pushed more than half the population below the poverty line.

It is not just hospitals struggling. Head of state-owned telecoms internet provider Ogero, Imad Kreidieh, told The National earlier this month that unless they can find a solution, sustained power cuts could lead to "disastrous" large-scale internet outages.

The Rafik Hariri University Hospital has become a symbol of excellence for Lebanon during the Covid-19 pandemic – a rarity for a public sector institution, most of which are underfunded.

The hospital has successfully managed the country’s main coronavirus ward despite a sharp rise in cases in January and February and a lack of drugs and equipment.

Dr Abiad has been a leading voice in sharing up to date data on the situation in the country and in issuing public health advice through the pandemic.

Many look to his tweets and media appearances for updates on cases, the vaccination campaign and the struggles of the healthcare sector.