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North Lebanon hospitals grapple with power, telecom outages

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A pharmacist sits on a stretcher holding a sign reading in Arabic “no gasoline = no ambulance” while another stands by holding another sign reading “no electricity = no hospital” as they stage a demonstration in the Achrafieh district of Lebanon’s capital Beirut on August 16, 2021, denouncing the critical condition facing the country’s hospitals while grappling with dire fuel shortages. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

Hospitals struggled Tuesday to operate amid life-threatening power cuts and telecom outages in the north Lebanon region of Akkar where a fuel tank explosion killed at least 28 people this week.

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Lights and phone lines went out across the impoverished and marginalised region that has long suffered from an ailing power grid but that is now grappling with an unprecedented crisis amid severe diesel shortages.

The outages come less than two days after a fuel tank exploded in the village of Al-Tleil, scorching people clamouring to fill petrol that the army was distributing.

Around 80 people, including several soldiers, were injured, many of them with severe burns, which overwhelmed hospitals.

Fuel shortages since the start of summer have aggravated hardship in Lebanon, a country of more than six million that is in the throes of an economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst since the mid-19th century.

Without the diesel fuel needed to power private generators, businesses, hospitals and even the country’s main telecom operator have been forced to scale back operations or close entirely in light of outages lasting up to 22 hours a day.

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In Akkar, hospitals still storing corpses of victims charred in Sunday’s fuel tank blast were left without power, internet, and working landlines, as health officials pleaded for help from the authorities.

“We have a stock of 700 litres (almost 185 gallons) of diesel fuel which will last for only one day,” said Riad Rahal, the director of Rahal Hospital in the Akkar town of Halba.

The nearby El-Youssef hospital also had enough stock of diesel to last until Wednesday morning and no working phone lines, said Nathaline El-Chaar, assistant to the director.

“Since yesterday landlines have been out of service… and we are trying hard to secure diesel,” she told AFP.

She said the hospital’s diesel provider had delayed deliveries fearing attacks on a north Lebanon highway where incidents in recent days have seen angry groups seize fuel from trucks.

The official National News Agency on Tuesday said diesel fuel shortages and power outages at the Ogero telecom provider forced it to cut internet, landlines and mobile phone services in several parts of Akkar, effectively paralysing banks, businesses, and state offices.

Ogero head Imad Kreidieh warned other regions in Lebanon would follow suit if the situation does not improve.

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