1.1. Background and Context
At least 154 people were killed (MoPH) and 5,000 wounded following two explosions that erupted in Lebanon’s capital on Tuesday August 4th at 6 pm. Hundreds have been reported missing in the aftermath of the blast, raising fears that the death toll will rise. The second explosion’s shock wave raced from the site of the blasts, Beirut’s industrial waterfront, into the city’s densely populated residential neighborhoods and shopping districts downtown. Dozens of nearby buildings collapsed or were severely damaged. Broken glass and debris could be seen two miles away, encompassing an area where more than 750,000 people live.
The damages were compounded by the destruction of key supplies stored in the port area, including Lebanon’s national wheat silo, which was destroyed. The silo contained essential grain reserves including wheat, corn, and barley. Lebanon is dependent on imports to satisfy around 85 percent of its food needs. The country was already in a precarious food security situation, as inflation has seen the cost of goods skyrocket throughout 2020, and importers have struggled to secure enough dollars in the cash-strapped country to pay for their imports.
The blast came at a sensitive time for Lebanon, which is struggling through a severe economic and public health crisis. Since October 2019, Lebanon has faced dramatic political and financial challenges which have culminated in an unprecedented economic recession, further compounding existing vulnerabilities among the country’s population – Lebanese and refugees alike. The value of the LBP has tumbled, losing 85% of its value, as of end of July 2020.
Against this backdrop, the COVID.-19 outbreak and related containment measures have largely affected all population cohorts. As a consequence of the economic crisis and countrywide lockdown, nearly one out of every three Lebanese was pushed into unemployment, while approximately 20% of the remaining population saw their salary being reduced (WFP, June 2020).
On August 4th, Lebanon’s main coronavirus hospital announced being on the verge of reaching full capacity in its critical care ward. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has increased sharply since the beginning of July, with new cases exceeding 100 per day, and 5,062 cases confirmed as of 5th August 2020. Pressure on both public and private hospitals is at an all-level high, with the number of new cases surging rapidly.
Following the port blast, the Lebanese Cabinet declared a two-week State of Emergency in Beirut on August 5, 2020. The gravity of the disaster and the pre-existing crisis conditions in which it occurred calls for immediate life-saving action aimed at providing relief assistance to those households affected by the disasters, and who lack means and resources to absorb the shock.
In response to knowledge gaps and rising needs, ACTED deployed a rapid assessment team on August 6, 2020 to collect community-level information about Geitawi, Karantina, Bourj Hammoud, Nabaa and Karm el Zeytoun neighborhoods to get a preliminary overview. The focus on those neighbourhoods was due to preexisting vulnerabilities, location near to the explosion location, and availability of key informants.
This assessment provides information to prompt and inform aid agencies to provide emergency humanitarian support to populations mostaffected by the Beirut explosions.