The 4th August 2020 will be etched on the memories of every single person, young and old, in Beirut that day.
A huge explosion at the city’s port killed more than 200 and injured around 6,000. Over a quarter of a million people have been made homeless. Beirut’s problems were chronic even before the explosion but two serious fires since then have made the situation all the more complicated.
In the past month, organisations such as the Lebanese Red Cross, Tearfund and Christian Aid have been there to bring food, clean water, temporary shelter, medical and blood transfusion services and psychosocial support.
A £300,000 grant from the Scottish Government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund towards the end of September will allow the charities to make more cash grants to help people rebuild their lives and homes.
These groups, their partners and other agencies have been visiting homes in the blast area, to ask people what they need, to assess the damage to their homes and to plan for short and longer-term recovery.
Red Cross teams have assessed almost 20,000 homes and visits continue daily; they have found families without toilets, electricity or running water.
At the same time, Christian Aid has delivered 15 thousand hot meals, distributed clothes, mattresses and blankets and also distributed over 5000 items of masks and other PPE, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the country.
The Scottish Government’s funding will now be targeted at those in Beirut identified as most at risk.
Nadine Alkhateeb is spokesperson for Christian Aid’s long-term partner Najdeh. She explains: “We’re giving people cash to buy food, medicine and essentials. Some residents, especially the elderly, are very traumatised and are sleeping on the street outside their homes. So many children have lost their home too. Around a thousand were injured and 17 schools were destroyed in the explosion.”
Many people are starting to move back to their damaged homes, trying to pick up the pieces. The focus now will be on supporting these families to rebuild.
Cash grants will help restore a sense of control and dignity; they will also help support the local economy.
For these reasons, this flexible type of aid has doubled since 2016 and last year around £4.3 billion or 17.8% of international humanitarian aid was delivered using either cash or vouchers.
Giving cash might sound like a simple idea, but to be done well it needs cooperation between local partners who can understand what is really needed by those in need.
Claire Flechais coordinates the work of the British Red Cross with the Lebanese Red Cross in Beirut. Despite the challenges facing the country she believes Lebanon can come through these crises if the people come together and cooperate: “What people are going through is extremely traumatic. It’s not like it’s the first time this sort of thing happens in Lebanon, it’s like almost every generation is going through a massive trauma. They need psychosocial support; they need to process the shock. And this is going to take a long time.
“At the same time, we have the Covid, we have the socio-economic instability, protests, nobody really knows what’s going to happen. There is a lot of uncertainty around the future of the country.
“It is actually a very bleak picture but at the same time I think what the Lebanese Red Cross is doing is symbolic. It shows that when we work together, we can achieve something.”
Since the explosion, Tearfund’s local partners have been providing hot meals as well as cash and vouchers to those most in need, to buy food and other essential items. They are also providing shelter and psychosocial support to those who have lost their homes.
In a recent assessment, Tearfund partners found that 85% of households didn’t have enough money for food they needed and 61% estimated their homes are in need of repair following the blast.
Tearfund’s Country Director for Lebanon, Karen Soerensen, said “There is so much need on the ground here and we are doing everything we can to meet those material needs with food and cash. But we are also extremely concerned about the longer term effects on those who have experienced trauma at this time. That’s why our partners are identifying and referring young people who will need psychosocial support to help them recover from all that they have witnessed and been through.”
One of these young people is Baqil, 13, who attends Tearfund’s partner’s programmes at a local youth centre. Baqil was at home on his balcony when he saw smoke coming out of the port, just 2 miles away. Hearing the explosion, Baqil ran inside and grabbed his 2 year old baby sister on the way, saving her life, but seriously injuring himself in the process. He was in a coma for several days after breaking 6 bones in his skull. Baqil’s family was by his bedside the whole time.
After hearing of Baqil’s situation, other youth and staff members from the partner’s centre headed over to his house to help his family clear it up before they arrived home from the hospital a few days later.
Karen continued, “This funding from the Scottish Government will help us do so much more to support families like Baqil’s with everything they are going to need to get through this very difficult time and rebuild. We are so thankful to have this additional support in place.”
The Scottish Government’s Minister for International Development Jenny Gilruth MSP set out why the money had been made available at this time: “When confronted with such an emergency, the Scottish Government will fulfil its role as a responsible and compassionate global citizen. This Humanitarian Emergency Fund aid will provide essential help to those who are in desperate need.”
Nadine from Christian Aid partner Najdeh added: “It will take time to recover from this, but it is good to know the people of Scotland are thinking of us right now. Thank you, we are very grateful.”
This article was first published on September 20 in The National, and was written by Stephen Fyfe, British Red Cross; Joanne Dallas, Christian Aid; and Jen Clark, Tearfund.