Beirut explosions: What is the situation six months on?
3 February 2021
On the evening of Tuesday 4 August, two explosions at the port of Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut sent an enormous shockwave across the city killing over 200 people and leaving more than 6,000 injured.
In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, rescue workers responded quickly - searching for missing people and providing emergency aid. Months later, rebuilding has started, but parts of Beirut remain uninhabitable.
Thousands of families were affected by the explosion. In the days following the explosion, many families slept in shattered homes or temporary accommodation, while also facing the deadly threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
"This explosion threatens to push many who were already suffering further into poverty and hunger."
Christine Allen, CAFOD Director
At least 300,000 homes were damaged, according to the Beirut governor Marwan Abboud and the UN now estimates that the total damages could reach 3-5 billion USD.
Please join us in praying for all those affected by these horrific explosions.
What has happened in the six months since the explosions?
In the six months since the explosions, we have worked extensively with local organisations, on projects including:
- Distributing over 150,000 hot meals and food packages to help families in need, through our partner Caritas Lebanon.
- Youth volunteers worked on a project to renovate nearly 700 houses and assessed the damage on over 1,000 more.
- Through local organisation B&Z, local volunteers distributed emergency kits - including food, hygiene supplies, and money to help people buy the things they need - to over 700 households.
- Local volunteers were also able to distribute weatherproofing items, enabling families to repair some damage to their houses before winter.
- Local organisation House of Peace, set up a self-care hub, which has an in-house psychologist to support to NGO staff who experienced trauma in the blast and during the subsequent emergency response efforts. It aims to help them deal with their trauma effectively and develop strategies for continuing to work well in challenging circumstances.
- Another one of our partners, Association Nadjeh distributed cash to over 3,000 households affected by the blast. These families primarily used the cash to meet their basic needs; to buy food, pay medical expenses and for construction materials and labour to repair housing damaged by the explosion.
What is life like for people whose houses were destroyed in the explosion?
Nohad Al-Mir is a Secretary who lives Karantina, a neighbourhood in Beirut that was badly impacted by the blast. Her house was destroyed in the explosions but she received help from our partner Association Nadjeh. She said:
“In every other way, that Tuesday last August was unremarkable. Dusk was just settling over my neighbourhood and I had visited the store to get some household items.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of a blast. The glass in the store began to shake. I ran away but I could not pass the road. So, I tried a different route, but debris from buildings blocked the way, and I was shocked at the blood that stained the pavements.
When I finally arrived home, I found my house as it still stands today, in ruins.
I'm now living in my brother's house with his family, but I come daily to check on my house. Association Najdeh, a local women’s organisation, has provided me with financial assistance that will help me to buy a refrigerator and gas. The foundations of a new start, and for that, I am very glad.”
Has coronavirus affected the rebuilding efforts in Lebanon?
In the six months since the explosions in Beirut, Lebanon has seen a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases, which has led to multiple lockdowns and restrictions. Despite the restrictions, CAFOD’s work with partners in Lebanon has been able to continue.
Daily infection rates are now some of the highest levels in the region, with cases passing the 6,000 cases in a day for the first time last week.
Most recently on Thursday 14 January 2021, Lebanon went into a strict lockdown, with residents barred even from grocery shopping as the country battles to slow spiking coronavirus cases.
Hombeline Dulière, CAFOD’s Emergency Programme Manager, who lives in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, said:
“The current situation in Lebanon is devastating. With the announcement that the country was going into full lockdown – with even essential food shops closing and a strict curfew in place – people were beginning to panic.
“These measures, that were meant to help, have only gone to exacerbate the already fragile situation. Currently, the country is going through a massive economic crisis with 1.7 million people living under the poverty line and some 22 per cent of the population is expected to fall into extreme poverty.
“The sanitary situation is deteriorating as people struggle to access the hygiene products they need, and the healthcare system is seriously strained as more and more people are infected. Many have no choice but to work to feed their families, but with the current lockdown, this seems an impossibility.”
What was the situation in Lebanon when the explosion happened?
This disaster only added to an existing political and economic crisis, putting further stress on people as they struggle to cope in their daily lives.
Hospitals and doctors were already reporting shortages of vital medical supplies and PPE before the explosion. Many were turning away non-critical cases to conserve resources. They are now under even greater strain.
Lebanon’s economy is in freefall. Many are surviving by eating less food while sinking further into debt. The availability of food in the country is at high risk and this explosion will have long-lasting impacts on Lebanon’s precarious food security.
"Beirut is devastated and we are totally overwhelmed by the scale of the events."
Father Michel Abboud, President of Caritas Lebanon
How did CAFOD support organisations in Lebanon to respond immediately after the explosions?
In the immediate aftermath of the explosions, our network of local experts and volunteers were on the ground and were able to:
- Give out hot meals and emergency food, hygiene kits, and medical services, alongside providing psychological first aid directly to 1,000 people.
- Youth volunteers worked to remove rubble from the streets and helping families to clean and shore up their homes as far as possible.
- And local organisations were able to provide emergency cash distribution to 3,000 households.
They were able to give this practical help to the most vulnerable families, including the elderly and those who've been left injured or jobless by the explosion.
Yasmin Kayali, co-founder of CAFOD's partner in Lebanon, Basmeh and Zeitooneh, spoke to CAFOD a month after the blast. She said:
"The last 25 days have gone by in a blur. It has been one of the most challenging times for us in our work.
"Since day one after the explosion, we and all our staff and the amazing volunteers that have joined us have been on the ground responding to people's initial needs - food, hot meals, removal of debris, emergency medical referrals - but over the past couple of weeks, this response has evolved.
"Now we are targeting the rehabilitation of homes and businesses, along with giving legal aid to refugee victims. We are also giving relief aid made up of food baskets, hygiene baskets and money to as many of the affected families as we can cover, making sure we leave no one behind and especially targeting the elderly, those who have lost heads of household, migrant workers and refugees.
"The road to recovery is very long and we must be very strategic in the way we get and use funding in order to make sure that we deliver the most widespread benefit. And in all this, it is very important to coordinate with others on the ground to avoid duplication and to also benefit from each other’s expertise."
CAFOD’s ongoing work in Lebanon
Through CAFOD’s extensive community network, we are well-placed to provide aid in some of the worst-hit and most inaccessible areas.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, our local experts have been continuing to provide food, shelter, water, and medical supplies to thousands of refugees in Lebanon and their host communities.
We have also adapted our work so that we continue to safely provide training, education, support to female-led co-operatives, and work to promote social cohesion and greater understanding among communities.