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Johnson says: We will focus on the needs of #Lebanon people

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday (6 August) he was shocked by the blast in Beirut and that Britain would continue to focus on the needs of the people of Lebanon, write Guy Faulconbridge and William James.

“I was absolutely apalled and shocked by the scenes from Lebanon, from Beirut,” Johnson said. “I am sure that the UK will continue to focus on the needs of the people of Lebanon.”

Disasters

EU solidarity in action: €211 million to Italy to repair the damage of the harsh weather conditions in autumn 2019

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The European Commission granted €211.7 million from the EU Solidarity Fund to Italy following the extreme weather damages in late October and November 2019. This EU assistance will contribute to alleviate the extraordinary financial burden of the severe damages caused by floods and landslides, including the flooding in Venice. It will finance retroactively the restoration of vital infrastructures, measures to prevent further damage and to protect cultural heritage, as well as cleaning operations in the disaster-stricken areas. This is part of an aid package of a total of €279m addressed to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Austria hit by natural disasters in 2019.

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira said: “This decision is yet another sign of the EU solidarity with Italy and member states suffering from adverse effects of natural disasters. It also reminds us of the importance of investing into the EU climate action to prevent and manage consequences of bad weather conditions and side-effects of climate change.”

The EU Solidarity Fund is one of the main EU instruments for disaster recovery and, as part of the EU coordinated response to the coronavirus emergency, its scope has been recently extended to cover major health emergencies. More information on the EU Solidarity Fund is available on the data story. 

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Croatia

EU Solidarity Fund: Commission gives financial support to #Croatia following earthquake

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The Commission has announced a first disbursement of financial aid worth €88.9 million under the EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) to Croatia, following the devastating earthquake that hit the city of Zagreb and its surroundings on 22 March 2020. This comes as a contribution to the country's efforts to assist the population, restore essential infrastructures and services.

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira said: “Croatia and its capital city have suffered one of the most severe natural disasters in more than a century, causing heavy damage and disruption. In addition, it happened at a moment when the population was already suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown. Today's decision aims at alleviating the heavy burden this has had on the country and shows once again the EU solidarity in such difficult times.”

Croatia will receive the advance payment, which is the highest ever paid out under the EUSF, within the coming days. In the meantime the Commission is completing its analysis of the request submitted by the Croatian authorities and will propose a final amount of aid, to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council.

Background

On 22 March 2020, a severe earthquake hit Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and its surroundings. In the immediate aftermath, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated to provide emergency response, mobilising tents, beds, mattresses, heaters and sleeping bags from Slovenia, Hungary, Austria and Italy to be dispatched swiftly to the affected areas. The Commission also provided support to rescue and damage assessment operations via the EU's Copernicus Emergency Management Services. Croatia then submitted a full application for assistance from the EU Solidarity Fund on 11 June 2020, within the regulatory deadline of 12 weeks from the occurrence of the disaster.

The EUSF supports EU Member States and Accession Countries by offering financial support after severe natural disasters. Since its creation in 2002, the Fund has been used for 88 disasters, covering a range of catastrophic events including floods, forest fires, earthquakes, storms and drought. 24 countries (23 member states and one accession country) have been supported so far, some of which multiple times, for an amount of more than €5.5 billion. As part of the EU response to the coronavirus outbreak and the associated public health crisis, the scope of the EUSF was recently extended to cover major public health emergencies and the maximum level of advance payment was raised from €30m to €100m.

More information

EU Solidarity Fund

List of all EUSF interventions (until end 2019)

 

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Disasters

#Beirut reels from huge blast, as death toll climbs to at least 135

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Lebanese rescue workers searched for survivors in the mangled wreckage of buildings and investigators blamed negligence for a massive warehouse explosion that sent a devastating blast wave across Beirut, killing at least 135 people, write Samia Nakhoul and Ellen Francis.

More than 5,000 people were injured in Tuesday’s (4 August) explosion at Beirut port and up to 270,000 were left without homes fit to live in after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland.

The death toll was expected to rise from the blast that officials blamed on a huge stockpile of highly explosive material stored for years in unsafe conditions at the port.

The explosion was the most powerful ever to rip through Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war that ended three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections. The blast rattled buildings on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, about 100 miles (160 km) away.

President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures, after it was seized.

He said in a national address the government was “determined to investigate and expose what happened as soon as possible, to hold the responsible and the negligent accountable.”

An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on “inaction and negligence”, saying “nothing was done” by committees and judges involved in the matter to order the removal of hazardous material.

The cabinet ordered port officials involved in storing or guarding the material since 2014 to be put under house arrest, ministerial sources told Reuters. The cabinet also announced a two-week state of emergency in Beirut.

Ordinary Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in Lebanon’s financial crisis, blamed politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance.

“This explosion seals the collapse of Lebanon. I really blame the ruling class,” said Hassan Zaiter, 32, a manager at the heavily damaged Le Gray Hotel in downtown Beirut.

The health minister said the death toll had climbed to at least 135, as the search for victims continued after shockwaves from the blast hurled some of the victims into the sea.

Relatives gathered at the cordon to Beirut port seeking information on those still missing. Many of those killed were port and custom employees, people working in the area or those driving nearby during the Tuesday evening rush hour.

The Red Cross was co-ordinating with the Health Ministry to set up morgues as hospitals were overwhelmed.

Beirut’s Clemenceau Medical Center was “like a slaughterhouse, blood covering the corridors and the lifts”, said Sara, one of its nurses.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told broadcaster LBC the blast had caused damage worth up to $5 billion, and possibly more, and left up to 270,000 people without homes.

“This is the killer blow for Beirut, we are a disaster zone,” said Bilal, a man in his 60s, in the downtown area.

Offers of international support poured in. Gulf Arab states, who in the past were major financial supporters of Lebanon but recently stepped back because of what they say is Iranian meddling, sent planes with medical equipment and other supplies. Iran offered food and a field hospital, ISNA news agency said.

The United States, Britain, France and other Western nations, which have been demanding political and economic change in Lebanon, also offered help. Germany, the Netherlands and Cyprus offered specialized search and rescue teams.

For many it was a dreadful reminder of the 1975 to 1990 civil war that tore the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut, much of which had been rebuilt.

“This is a catastrophe for Beirut and Lebanon,” Beirut’s Mayor Jamal Itani told Reuters while inspecting damage.

Officials did not say what caused the initial blaze at the port that set off the blast. A security source and media said it was started by welding work being carried out on a warehouse.

Beirut driver Abou Khaled said ministers “are the first that should be held accountable for this disaster. They committed a crime against the people of this nation with their negligence.”

The port district was left a tangled wreck, disabling the nation’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people.

Lebanon has already been struggling to house and feed refugees fleeing conflict in neighbouring Syria and has no trade or other ties with its only other neighbour Israel.

“On a scale, this explosion is scaled down from a nuclear bomb rather than up from a conventional bomb,” said Roland Alford, managing director of British explosive ordnance disposal firm Alford Technologies. “This is huge.”

The blast came three days before a U.N.-backed court delivers a verdict in the trial of four suspects from Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 others.

Hariri was killed by a big truck bomb on another part of the Beirut waterfront, about 2 km (about one mile) from the port.

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