Though there is still uncertainty about the massive explosion that occurred on August 4, 2020, near the port of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, there are some facts and predictions about the health outcomes that it has and will cause. NGOs mobilized humanitarian aid teams immediately after the tragedy in an effort to provide aid. The recent explosion could impact much of the population’s health, considering the mass amounts of ammonium nitrate and other toxins in the air, the falling infrastructure and destroyed hospitals, an increasing lack of access to healthcare and the rising demand for emergency response teams. The following four points are a few of the health outcomes and predictions regarding the Beirut explosion, as well as what organizations on the ground are doing to help those the explosion impacted the most.
4 Facts About How the Beirut Explosion Could Impact Health
- The toxins in the air could result in detrimental health impacts for much of the population. The Beirut explosion has a link to the storage of about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. As a result, when the explosion occurred, it released multiple toxins into the air. The ammonia in the air is a corrosive gas that may cause cell damage, resulting in a burning feeling in a person’s eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract. Furthermore, it can cause lung damage, blindness and death. Additionally, the nitrogen oxides in the air are especially dangerous for those with respiratory issues. These toxins are also dangerous to newborns and pregnant women, and could likely cause premature death. The Lebanese Red Cross called for an immediate dispatch of all members in order to help those the explosion impacted. To date, millions of people around the world have donated to this organization.
- The explosion resulted in many casualties and some are still unknown. As of August 5, 2020, the death toll from the explosion was around 135, with many people still missing. There were over 5,000 people injured and four hospitals damaged in the blast. These numbers will likely increase in the coming weeks due to the impact of the blast. Additionally, at least 300,000 homes experienced damage and became uninhabitable, with estimates of around a quarter-million people now homeless, leading to further issues in health outcomes and disparities within the population. However, many volunteers, NGOs and the Lebanese Red Cross have set up base camps near the scene of the explosion and have been offering food, shelter and collecting donations and medical supplies to those who lost their homes. There have been other groups that have set up shelter for those who were homeless previous to the explosion and for those who have lost their homes due to the tragedy.
- COVID-19 cases are likely to increase. Due to the number of injured people, as well as the ever-increasing amount of hospital patients from the toxins in the air, there is a possibility that swarms of incoming patients will overwhelm hospitals. Additionally, because the Beirut explosion destroyed four hospitals, the loss of personal protection equipment supplies will likely impact the number of coronavirus patients in the coming weeks. According to the WHO, the tragedy reduced the number of hospital beds by 500-600. Due to the strained healthcare system from COVID-19, many organizations have set up camps and clinics near the scene for those who need medical assistance.
- The blast could trigger PTSD, depression and health status deterioration. A 2003 study of survivors of a church explosion in Lebanon found that one year after the explosion, 39% of victims had PTSD, 51% were depressed and 45% reported a deterioration in their health status. These percentages were significantly higher than those who did not experience the explosion. Currently, there are many groups on the ground that are working to support survivors of this explosion through medical assistance, offering shelter and food and giving financial support. The Lebanese Red Cross is working to meet emotional support needs and has trained team members who are providing crisis counseling to the community.
Beirut has a population of nearly 2.5 million people, all of whom may be at risk of detrimental health outcomes from the explosion. When considering the impacts of the toxins in the air, destroyed housing and other vital infrastructure and mental health impacts from the Beirut explosion, it is critical for experts to account for and properly assess present and future health outcomes in order to aid the affected civilians. The most reliable and effective place to donate is through the Lebanese Red Cross. Thirty teams mobilized to work on the ground in Beirut; they worked on rescuing and searching for the wounded, and treating them on-site and/or transporting them to hospitals. Additionally, Lebanese Red Cross teams have provided emergency shelter for thousands of families, with goals to shelter over 10,000 families in the coming months, as well as offer food, water, hygiene kits and PPE to families.
– Naomi Schmeck