It is a little over one month on from the explosion that devastated Beirut. The city is gradually shifting from an emergency response towards assessing and caring for the medium-to-long term needs
At the time of writing, 192 deaths have been confirmed from the August 4th explosion, around 6,500 people were injured and seven people remain missing. Approximately 300,000 people are now homeless and in need of shelter, food and medicine. Compounding the devastation from the blast, Beirut and Lebanon has since experienced a surge in Covid-19 infections. This has further stretched the humanitarian need. Political and economic developments also continue to be highly contentious.
The confirmed number of Covid-19 cases is now over 21,000, up from 4,000 during in just over a month. Lebanon recently exited a renewed, two-week lockdown, which had been introduced in an effort to tackle the rise in Covid cases. It very much seems that the motivation for lifting the lockdown was economic, rather than based on the public health situation as case numbers continue to rise.
Covid cases have been rising by around an additional 400 per day over the past week and the situation remains critical. According to WHO reports, 60% of hospital beds dedicated to Covid patients are full.
Thankfully, food security is not under as imminent a threat as previously feared as the food-supply chain is holding up. The World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed 15,000 tonnes of wheat to bakeries, covering the amount that was lost in silos near port following the explosion. However, while the supply chain has been maintained, the economic situation and increasing prices mean food security remains a real concern.
The designated Prime Minister, Mustapha Adib, is yet to take over and, for now, the caretaker cabinet is still on in power. This has led the Lebanon pound to decrease further against dollar, leading to another rise in food prices.
The political uncertainty means protests and civil unrest has once again become more frequent, with recent unrest in Tripoli and violent clashes in Beirut and Baalbek. Further unrest in Palestinian refugee camps and the fear that a new cabinet formation may lead to sectarian unrest has led to a ‘tinder box’ feeling in some areas.
Thanks to the generous support of the Irish people, Trócaire continues to assist those who were affected by the explosion via our local partner, Caritas Lebanon. By the end of last month, Caritas Lebanon had provided assistance to 65,000 individuals in Beirut and its suburbs, including psychological support, food kits, hygiene kits, medicine and medical aid. Around 45,000 hot meals have been distributed to people in need.
As a result of the explosion, Maher Metri, who was injured by the blast, saw his livelihood destroyed as his hairdressing shop was left in ruins by the explosion. His home was also damaged. Maher received basic medical treatment from Caritas Lebanon after being thrown around 10 metres by the shockwave.
He explained: “Thank God I left the restaurant I was at and went outside to check what was happening after I heard the first explosion. Had I stayed inside I would have died no doubt.
“Despite the fact that the country is going through difficult times financially and economically, my business was doing well. But now what? I lost everything.”
Shelter – including the repair of homes – and protection is the current priority for victims of the blast explosion and Trócaire is working with Caritas Lebanon to respond.
Our partners are also now assessing the secondary impacts from the explosions: the risk of increase of child labour, child marriage as well as more children being moved from private to public schools which has meant a lower quota for refugee children. Such is the level of desperation that there has been a rise in the number of Lebanese and Syrian refugees arriving in Cyprus in recent days.
Protection is an urgent issue and Trócaire’s partner, Caritas Lebanon, established two tents in the areas that were severely damaged by the shockwave, which raced from the blast to the densely populated areas around the explosion site.
Front line staff have been working non-stop; supporting in the removal of rubbles and debris in around 75 houses every day, in addition to providing food, water, medicines, and first aid for those who need it the most. At least 500 people approached these Caritas tents daily in recent weeks.
Commenting on the support he has received, Maher appealed for continued help from donors abroad due to the economic state of the country: “This gives us a sparkle of hope. We really need your contributions. We were at the verge of collapse and now our country is slowly dying.”
With the help of the Irish public, Trócaire will continue to provide the essential support so desperately needed as people attempt to rebuild their lives.
Emily Whitehead is Trócaire Country Director, Lebanon & Syria response