BEIRUT: EMERGENCY RELIEF MUST NOT BECOME A MAINSTAY
The explosion that took place on the 4th of August in Beirut, in which over 200 lives were lost, injuring 5000 people and leaving 300,000 homeless,¹ could not come at a worse time for Lebanon. Already reeling from an acute socio-economic crisis that has decimated the livelihoods of millions, compounded further by the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and wellbeing of the population, the disaster at the port of Beirut places Lebanon in an extremely precarious situation, with no clear end in sight. In addition to that, the country has been struggling for years to accommodate the 1.5 million refugees who have fled neighboring Syria as a result of the ongoing Syrian civil war. This horrendous tragedy catalyzes the “perfect storm”; the culmination of multiple crisis devastating the lives of the most vulnerable. Immense pressure will further overwhelm the basic services of the country, whether it is an overly strained public education system unable to deliver its programs to thousands of children in need, to inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities putting families at greater health risk.
Demonstrating solidarity, compassion and the desire to help the most vulnerable, the inhabitants of Beirut and those throughout Lebanon have gone well beyond their means in lending a hand with blood donations, sheltering homeless families and cleaning the devastation wrought by the blast. It is within this spirit that international aid actors, institutions, donors and governments around the world must add to the support given by the Lebanese people to not only provide assistance for those left most vulnerable, but also address deep, structural needs that will provide a lasting and resilient recovery. As Deputy Secretary-General Ms. Amina J. Mohammed stated during the International Conference on Assistance and Support to Beirut and the Lebanese people, “ The United Nations will help strengthen safety nets for vulnerable people against the socio-economic crisis, and we are well equipped to do this. A focus on the long-term is essential to ensure this latest tragedy will mark a turning point for Lebanon.”²
The priority at the moment is to understand and meet the immediate needs of the population most affected by the blast, ensuring that health services are not overwhelmed and that those left homeless have access to temporary shelters and food. WeWorld-GVC has already begun identifying needs through its Crisis Task Force, and is coordinating with other aid actors, local responders, authorities and the Lebanese Red Cross. Activities are ongoing to address basic needs, shelter rehabilitation, WASH-related activities, infrastructure rehabilitation and cash distribution, among others.
The negative consequences of the blast will continue to be felt for years to come. It is of utmost importance that all planned responses consider the need for planning on a mid to long term timeframe. In a country already amidst an acute socio-economic catastrophe, exacerbated by the consequences of the pandemic, the provision of basic services was and continues to be woefully inadequate in addressing the needs of a diverse group that include the aforementioned Syrian refugees, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and migrant workers, as well as many Lebanese struggling to make ends meet. Lasting trauma amongst children to list one example, must be rehabilitated with sustained and adequate support. Our ongoing work with children and their families is being readapted to better facilitate remote learning, providing Education in Emergency compounded with the rehabilitation of quality educational services, to face the new realities in the aftermath of the explosion. Water services to cite another example were already strained, exacerbating existing disparities and tensions, and must be approached withintegrated solutions now more than ever. We are pushing efforts to activate our direct work with Municipalities to ensure that the Water sector can face increased demand in several areas and the urgent needs of the most affected.
The current situation must not devolve into stasis; emergency relief must not become a mainstay in Beirut for months or years to come. We must strive to design a response to this humanitarian catastrophe that looks to strengthening reconstruction and development efforts, so that communities have the means by which they may recover according to their best interests. The goal of WeWorld-GVC integrated approach is view recipients of assistance as agents of change for the communities they belong to. We are thus doing our best to design actions to be owned, adapted and carried out by the very groups that they are intended for, to achieve greater autonomy and accountability to ensure lasting solutions together with their local and national representatives. The core of our efforts are women and children who are the least protected while being often the first promoters of change and resilience even in catastrophes.
Welcoming the wholehearted support that has been internationally activated and pledged, aid organizations, UN institutions, donors and governments must find ways to collaborate and complement each other’s activities across multi-annual programmes, with funding being flexible and adaptive to changing needs. On this principle, WeWorld-GVC is adapting its actions based on joint rapid assessments and will continue to assist with the provision of emergency aid while working closely together with its partners and local responders to ensure that the people of Beirut will be able to emerge from the entrenched crisis stronger and more resilient.
¹UN OCHA, Lebanon: Beirut Port Explosions: Situation Report No. 4, 9th August 2020.
² UNSG, Deputy Secretary-General Opening Remarks for International conference on assistance and support to Beirut and the Lebanese people, 9th August 2020.