By Mona Harb and Mona Fawaz
The blast and multiple crises
The August 4, 2020 explosion that rocked the Port of Beirut resulted in massive human losses: at least 188 men, women, youth and children were killed, an estimated 6,000 were injured, whereas several remain missing. About 47,000 apartments were damaged in a 2km radius extending throughout half of the city, affecting around 300,000 people. Most affected areas are Gemmayzeh, Karantina, Mar Mikhail, Jeitawi, Saint Nicolas, Zokak al-Blatt, and downtown Beirut, with sizable damage in adjacent neighborhoods. Educational and health facilities have not been spared: three large hospitals are out of service and more than one-hundred schools and health dispensaries are severely damaged. Additionally, the blast caused major traumas across all social groups, especially the most vulnerable ones such as children, women, youth, the elderly, LGBTIQ+, migrants and refugees.
The Port’s explosion is a major blow to populations that were already struggling to survive multiple compounded crises: a refugee crisis of more than one million Syrians fleeing the war; an economic-financial collapse caused by extremely high indebtedness that translated into a severe liquidity crisis, the de facto devaluation of the LBP with multiple exchange rates and high inflation; a deep-rooted and at turn violent socio-political crisis that led to the resignation of two governments in less than six months; and, not least, a global pandemic which has been soaring in the past weeks.
The impact of these manifold crises on people’s livelihoods is catastrophic: recent numbers issued by ESCWA reveal major spikes in poverty due to the “crippling impact of multiple shocks:” more than 55% of the Lebanese qualify as poor (they were 28% in 2019), while extreme poverty is now reaching 28% (it was 8% in 2019). Numbers also underscore acute inequality with the richest 10% owning about 70% of all personal wealth in the country.
Two weeks after the blast, the recovery framework is still precarious. While volunteers ran to help out people in the neighborhoods, demonstrating, yet again, an amazing spirit of solidarity, the official response has been slow and uncoordinated, as per previous rounds of reconstruction. The military and the Higher Relief Commission have mobilized to undertake physical damage assessments alongside the Order of Engineers and Architects (OEA) and private consulting firms, which are still ongoing. Meanwhile, a plethora of INGOs, NGOs, and UN-agencies are on the ground conducting their own sets of needs-assessments and deploying their protocols to respond amongst other to protection, relief, shelter and WASH needs.