In August 2020, Zeina Salhani was head of Humanity & Inclusion’s emergency team in Beirut. One year after the August 4, 2020, blast, she describes the current situation in Lebanon as one of disarray:
The August 4, 2020, explosion in Beirut still has a visible impact on health infrastructures. Many have not fully recovered, and are still experiencing consequences, such as limited capacity to respond to health demands. We also noticed an increase of positive Covid-19 cases just after the blast.
Some people still have not been able to return home, as they need assistance rebuilding their houses, though this number has been greatly reduced. Regarding mental health, people directly impacted by the blast have yet to recover from the psychological trauma of the experience.
In addition to last year’s explosion, Lebanon is suffering one of the 10 worst financial crises since the mid-19th century. The Lebanese pound is hitting record lows of 15,000 to the dollar, compared to 1,500 to the dollar only 18 months ago. Half of the population is below the poverty line, facing fuel shortages and soaring food prices. Almost everything, from food to medication, is expensive and unaffordable. Add the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the recent resurgence due to the Delta variant, and you have a very bleak picture of Lebanon today. The population is experiencing anger, despair and anxiety. People are struggling on a daily basis to meet their basic needs.
Unemployment rates have significantly increased in recent months. Both shops and markets are closing, making food and medication even more difficult to access in addition to the rising prices.
Many pharmacies or health centers may prefer to reserve their stock, waiting to sell items at higher prices, or when the exchange is more favorable for them. Additionally, the government has stopped subsidizing many products such as fuel or baby diapers, resulting in even higher prices.
Many families have decreased the number of meals they consume per day. They have also changed their diets to include less meat and more vegetables and seeds, which are cheaper. Many people no longer use their cell phone networks but instead only use web-based apps such as WhatsApp, which is less expensive.
More and more are seeking aid from external support, preferring to seek aid from NGOs rather than a public hospital for example. There is also a clear distrust in the Covid-19 vaccine promoted by the government.
There have been increases in numerous requests for humanitarian aid, such as a 35% increase of patients for our rehabilitation or mental health services in host communities. Whereas our previous participants were largely Syrian refugees, today we are seeing more and more Lebanese citizens using Humanity & Inclusion’s services in Lebanon. We also receive more children and caregivers today. There has been such an increase in visitors that we have been obligated to put people on waiting lists.
Due to the crisis, the main priority today is granting access to food. We have never experienced this before in Lebanon. It can trigger tensions with Syrian refugees who receive cash assistance, for example, from humanitarian organizations. Some people may say that this is unfair. They also accuse the Syrian refugees of taking job opportunities. Many children have dropped out of school to support their families, and the number of people begging in the street has drastically increased.
Humanity & Inclusion’s response the August 4 explosion
Humanity & Inclusion and its partners provided door-to-door psychosocial outreach to 2,711 people in areas affected by the blast. Those individuals also were provided with information on Covid-19 prevention and safeguarding. As part of the outreach, teams identified the needs and priorities of impacted people, then referred them to the appropriate services internally or to external resources.
690 people benefited from comprehensive rehabilitation services, among them:
- 395 people received physical, occupational and/or speech therapy
- 190 people received mental health rehabilitation
- 261 caregivers received functional training to assist their loved ones with rehabilitation at home
- 360 people received assistive devices, wound kits and other items to assist in recovery
- 1,003 people were referred to external services, primarily for cash, food, shelter and medical assistance
- 1,396 households received hygiene and dignity kits
- 14 people received trauma therapy sessions