Lebanon + 2 more

Beirut residents’ perspectives on August 4 blast: Findings from a needs and perception survey

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I. Executive Summary

Lebanon was rocked by an explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020—causing hundreds of deaths, wounding thousands, and leading to significant destruction of livelihoods and property. The blast occurred amid political, public health, and economic crises.

As part of the immediate response, the World Bank conducted a needs and perception online survey targeting the most affected areas. The survey, deployed from August 13 to 20, captured thousands of residents’ perspectives about the explosion’s impact, their resulting needs, and their experiences with and expectations for assistance and reconstruction. The survey’s household-level results informed the preparation of the Beirut Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment, including its recommendations for the recovery and reconstruction.

Quantitative results and a qualitative assessment of the survey’s open-ended fields found significant demand for assistance. Variables capturing the physical impacts of the blast, including injury, death of immediate relatives, extended family or friends, and property damages were used to create an impact index. Areas of closest proximity reported the most significant material and structural damage and physical harm, where more than two-thirds of respondents were displaced from their homes.

When asked about their most pressing needs, respondents from all geographic zones and wealth categories stressed the need for mental health services. Most respondents indicated access to food as an urgent need, especially among the poorer segments of the population. Housing remained of key concern for those closest to the blast zone and larger households, and those with a lower reported monthly income were more likely to request financial and livelihood assistance.

Needs varied across gender. Women indicated medical, mental health, and safety as concerns more frequently than men. Men prioritized food, income, and legal services. Additional concerns included COVID-19, security, and food prices. Fears about air quality and toxic dust were also reported, though they were less of a concern to the poor when compared to those in wealthier demographic brackets.

Another key finding was that, while most respondents expressed needing support, over one-third had not registered for assistance at the time of the survey. When asked why they did not register, approximately 38 percent of respondents selected that they did not believe they would receive support. 34 percent did not know how to register. Other reasons cited included a low level of trust, a lack of information, feelings of shame, and the belief that they were not a priority group to receive assistance. Some respondents reportedly preferred to leave assistance to benefit others—many of these responses came from the region of Mount Lebanon, which was not heavily damaged, but also from Zone 2, which sustained significant damage due to the blast.

The survey also identified opinions about the crisis response process. Residents, on average, saw the international community as more trustworthy than national organizations. Notably, political parties were not trusted at all and religious groups were minimally trusted. Respondents expressed more, though still limited, confidence in local charities and the armed forces. The highest level of trust across age and geographic zone was awarded to the Lebanese Red Cross.

The lack of confidence in institutions mimics a lack of confidence in how resources meant for recovery would be spent. Respondents overwhelmingly felt that money committed for recovery would not be spent transparently, equally, and fairly. In all instances, less than 10 percent were very confident or extremely confident that the money would be spent well. This coincides with attitudes towards the future being largely pessimistic—something shared across geographic zones, gender, and income levels. Few respondents were confident that post-blast unity will prevail in the country. A majority believe that the situation in Lebanon and their quality of life will have worsened five years from now.

Despite the bleak outlook and lack of trust in leadership, many in Lebanon showed community solidarity. About a quarter of respondents have been invested in volunteering in the aftermath of the explosion. This includes diverse engagements through a range of organizations and activities, such as distributing food, cleaning debris, providing medical and mental health services, donation drives, and linking affected residents with suppliers and contractors. Youth were more likely to participate in volunteering efforts, with 44 percent of those aged 18-24 volunteering. Men and women had relatively comparable answers regarding the assistance they offered, with the exception that more than 76 percent of food donations and more than 71 percent of cash and in-kind donations were offered by women.

Ultimately, this survey has given survivors the opportunity to express how they have been impacted and to share their needs and concerns. In doing so it provides important guidance to inform the recovery and reconstruction efforts. Meeting the needs caused by the blast and existing vulnerabilities requires a policy response centered on immediate needs such as shelter, food, and medicines as well as investments to ensure longer term welfare. These include livelihood and mental health and psychosocial assistance.

As the survey found that the areas hit hardest by the explosion are socioeconomically mixed, with some areas less vulnerable than others, policy and programming must balance support for those that have suffered significant losses from the immediate crisis and for those that were already experiencing deprivation. Achieving this goal requires careful coordination of aid, service provision, and reconstruction projects. Plus, as confidence in local and state institutions remains low, policy responses should aim to increase transparency, inclusivity, monitoring, and opportunities for participation from residents. Respondents confirm a desire to play a role in rebuilding their lives, a sense of caution of becoming dependent upon external aid entities, and an openness to sharing further feedback on the effectiveness of response mechanisms and their development priorities. Effectively capturing this data will remain necessary as perceptions of inequity and lack of transparency could fuel conflict and mistrust. Thus, attention should be given to ensure equitable distribution of assistance, particularly in reaching those most in need.