Humanitarian workers have said many challenges still remain six months after a deadly explosion in Lebanon.
The explosion sent shockwaves sent across Beirut on 4th August 2020, killing more than 200 people, and leaving more than 6,000 injured.
Deborah Hyams, senior Syria, Iraq and Lebanon advocacy advisor for Christian Aid told Premier Lebanon’s most vulnerable continue to bear the brunt of its economic and health crises.
“The economy has really gone from bad to worse with hyperinflation and devaluation of the currency,” she said.
“Food prices have increased by a huge amount, which is really hitting the poorest families the most.
“We’ve seen a huge spike in Covid cases during January in Lebanon with hospitals really overwhelmed by Covid and turning people away.”
On the ground, local humanitarian and civil society groups are leading efforts to support families and rebuild livelihoods, Christian Aid has said, but the needs are immense.
Some 1.5 million Syrians have fled the decade-long conflict in their homeland and now live in Lebanon, the vast majority in deep poverty.
Hyams said: “In terms of the following of the explosion, there has been some rebuilding, but there are still a lot of people who are facing the winter within homes that are really insufficient. And Lebanon's more than a million Syrian refugees have been hit especially hard by the storms and the weather, and many of them are living in very makeshift housing, some of them in tents.”
Majid (pictured above), originally from Syria, came to Beirut with his family 10 years ago as refugees. His home was damaged in the August explosion – the doors and windows of his building blew in, injuring his wife – and though six months have passed, the emotional scars from that day remain.
He received cash support from Christian Aid’s partner Association Najdeh in Beirut, thanks to funding from the Scottish Government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund, which allowed him to buy essential food and helped pay his rent. But his children are still traumatised.
Majid said:“My children aren’t able to forget the sound of the explosion, when they hear any sound or noise around us, immediately they remember what happened… even my little son is now having speech problems.”
Christian Aid is working with three partner organisations in Lebanon to distribute cash and other types of aid to those in need.
Fadi Halisso is co-director of Basmeh & Zeitooneh, an NGO founded in 2012 to serve Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the region, and one of Christian Aid’s partners. They now find themselves helping Lebanese citizens as well as Syrian refugees.
Halisso said: “We are overwhelmed with requests: recently we’ve received requests from an average of 10,000 families a month, for food and basic hygiene items.
“Mothers are telling us that they are feeding their babies watered-down tea, as they cannot afford milk or baby formula. Many families who have been out of work for months are barely eating, they send us pictures of their empty kitchen shelves. It’s heart-breaking.
“While we continue to help Syrian refugees, about half of those asking for assistance in recent months have been Lebanese citizens. Before, it was rare to find Lebanese families asking for help with such basic needs. Now, even households who were managing before are hurting.”
In the months following the explosion, Christian UK aid agency CAFOD worked alongside local Lebanese organisations to help begin the rebuilding projects.
This included working with local aid agency Caritas Lebanon to distribute over 150,000 hot meals and food packages to help families in need. Youth volunteers worked on a project to renovate nearly 700 houses and assessed the damage on over 1,000 more.
The huge blast at Beirut port happened due to a large quantity of ammonium nitrate had been stored in unsafe conditions. The explosion flattened or damaged some 74,000 homes, schools and hospitals across a large area of the city.
Listen to Premier’s interview with Deborah Hyams here: