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UNICEF Says Beirut Children Will Need Special Care After Blast

Palestinian children light candles to show their solidarity with the Lebanese people following the explosion in the port of Beirut, at the unknown soldier square in Gaza City, Aug. 6, 2020.

UNICEF says children caught in Tuesday's Beirut explosion will need special care and protection to recover, particularly in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Preliminary assessments still underway indicate children may account for up to one-third of the 300,000 people made homeless by the Beirut blast. Homes and infrastructure have been destroyed or have suffered extensive damage. Monitors report many households have limited water and electricity.

The U.N. children’s fund reports a birth and pediatric unit in the Government’s Karantina Hospital has been destroyed. The unit provided specialized treatment for newborns needing critical health care. Additionally, it reports 16 primary health care centers serving 160,000 people have been damaged.

Meanwhile, it reports 10 containers of personal protective equipment, including hundreds of thousands of gloves, gowns and masks essential in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic have been destroyed.

UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says COVID infections are increasing and her agency is working with the World Health Organization to replace these supplies. Johns Hopkins University reports nearly 6,000 coronavirus cases in Lebanon, including 70 deaths.

“The areas around the blast are those with some of the most active clusters and community transmission," Mercado said. "It is impossible for those affected to practice safe distancing and there is a desperate need for masks. But for most people right now COVID is not top of mind.”

Mercado says UNICEF’s immediate priorities include the reunification of children separated from their families by the disaster. She says many will need psychosocial support to deal with shock, trauma and bereavement for the loss of families and friends and the places and belongings they held dear.

She says emergency cash is needed to help the most vulnerable families provide for their basic needs. She says damaged health care facilities and schools will have to be rehabilitated.

“We have initial reports of over 120 public and private schools that have sustained damage ranging from windows blown out to more fundamental infrastructural damage," Mercado said. "These schools serve approximately 55,000 children and it will be crucial to rehabilitate them before the start of the new school year.”

School is set to start August 26. Mercado says UNICEF urgently requires $8.25 million to address immediate emergency needs. She says more funding will be required in the future to tackle longer-term developmental and rehabilitative needs.