Beirut explosions: What is the situation a year on?

3 August 2021

Aid worker in Beirut

A member of Caritas Lebanon hands a bag of essential items to a local woman in Beirut.

On the evening of Tuesday 4 August 2020, 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.

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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.

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What has happened in the year since the explosions? 

Since the explosion, the situation in Lebanon has become increasingly challenging. In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating losses of the Beirut blast, Lebanon is in the midst of a major economic collapse, grappling with hyperinflation and shortages of basic items, including medicines and medical supplies, and has been without an effective government since August last year.

The situation is critical as more people are sliding into extreme poverty and hunger. According to the World Bank, the economic and financial crisis is ranked as possibly one of the top three most severe crises globally, with an estimated 50 per cent of the population now living below the poverty line.

In the past twelve months, CAFOD has supported local organisations in Lebanon to help people start to recover from the blast. By the beginning of August 2021, CAFOD partner Caritas Lebanon had supported over 350,000 people in Beirut and its suburbs.

This included:

  • 250,000 hot meals
  • 7,700 food packages
  • 3,700 hygiene kits
  • 1,541 psychological first aid sessions
  • 1,280 house renovations.

CAFOD continue to support Caritas Lebanon with their ongoing response, including distributions of hygiene kits, medical services, support for students’ remote learning and ongoing rehabilitation for homes and businesses damaged by the explosion.

Local partner Basmeh and Zeitooneh have been supporting local families with a work scheme that benefited explosion-affected areas, including cleaning the streets, electrical maintenance, and clearing building's entrances to improve inhabitants’ safety.

Malake, 55, from Bourj Hammoud took part in the project. She said: “I used to be a taxi driver until my car was completely damaged and I couldn’t afford to fix it or to find another job so I suffered from depression for a long period because of my situation and what is happening in the country. Now I feel that I am making a difference in the community and I'm more productive!”

CAFOD continues to support communities who have been impacted by the blast with food and hygiene packages, PPE, alongside psychosocial and mental health support, and psychosocial sessions.

CAFOD's partner Association Najdeh’s emergency response to the Beirut blast reached over 3,000 households with emergency cash assistance for food, medical expenses and construction materials. As a Palestinian women’s organisation, Association Najdeh’s emergency intervention on behalf of all communities had many positive impacts beyond the initial response. This included creating an improved opinion of Palestinians who are generally marginalised and discriminated against in Lebanon.

Additionally, after identifying the high levels of trauma among frontline aid workers who had witnessed both the Beirut blast and worked on the emergency response, CAFOD's local partner House of Peace was able to expand their work in support of frontline workers. To date, House of Peace has supported 165 aid workers, from a range of organisations, with psychosocial and self-care support.

One participant explained: "I didn't realise before how much it is important to find a time for myself, to take care of myself; but after the sessions, I realised how essential it is to do so, in order to be able to continue doing what I am doing."

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What is life like for people whose houses were destroyed in the explosion? 

Nohad Al-Mir is a secretary who lives in 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.”

Fire and smoke rises around destroyed buildings in Beirut

Parts of Beirut remain uninhabitable following the explosions in August 2020. Photo credit: Caritas Lebanon

Has coronavirus affected the rebuilding efforts in Lebanon? 

In the year since the explosions in Beirut, Lebanon saw a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases, which led to multiple lockdowns and restrictions. Despite the restrictions, CAFOD’s work with partners in Lebanon has been able to continue. 

Hombeline Dulière, CAFOD’s Emergency Programme Manager, who lives in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, said:

“The situation in Lebanon is devastating. With the announcement in January that the country was again 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."

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 able to:

  • Give out hot meals and emergency food, hygiene kits, and medical services, alongside providing psychological first aid directly to 1,000 people.
  • Remove rubble from the streets and helped families to clean and shore up their homes as far as possible.
  • 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." 

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Beirut explosions

Hospitals and doctors were already reporting shortages of vital medical supplies and PPE before the explosion. They are now under even greater strain. Photo credit: Caritas Lebanon

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.

Read stories from women working to rebuild Beirut

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 and education, support to female-led co-operatives, and work to promote social cohesion and greater understanding among communities.

What can I do to help? 

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