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One month after Beirut blast, rebuilding out of reach for many families

By Oxfam
Celine El Kik works for Oxfam partner KAFA and is packing boxes of food to be distributed to vulnerable families affected by the explosion. KAFA provides aid to women and children, including psychological and legal support. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Thousands struggle to put food on the table and afford such basics as windows and doors.

On August 4, a massive blast in the port of Beirut ripped through the city, killing over 200 people, injuring thousands, and destroying the homes of an estimated 300,000.

The people of Beirut came together in the midst of the overwhelming damage, trauma, and outrage over this preventable disaster as the true first responders, helping neighbors, friends, and complete strangers access urgent resources, such as medical care, and working together to clean up the debris.

Before the blast hit, many families in Lebanon were already struggling through an economic crisis—an estimated 50 percent of the population were living under the poverty line and the Lira’s value had dropped by 80 percent. Now, one month later, it’s becoming clear how longstanding inequality, massive inflation, and COVID-19 have compounded this humanitarian disaster for tens of thousands, making it almost impossible for them to recover. Many can’t afford the basics like windows and doors to rebuild and get back on their feet.

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This home, like hundreds of thousand others, was damaged beyond repair in the explosion. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

“Huge inflation has meant the cost of basic materials needed to rebuild homes and businesses is out of reach for thousands of people who were struggling to get by even before the blast. While the minimum wage is just under $450 a month, the cost of replacing one window is now nearly $500 and a door up to $1000,” says Bachir Ayoub, Oxfam’s policy lead in Lebanon. “Many people are unable to put food on the table, let alone repair their houses. These families need urgent assistance to recover from this disaster and rebuild their lives.”

And, as coronavirus cases surge, the cost of a single test is $100 and well out of reach for most people.

Effects on mental health

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Anto, an out-of-work hairdresser, was in his house when it was hit by the explosion. The experience left him feeling as though life has been destroyed, he reports. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Anto, 25, is a hairdresser who has been out of work since the beginning of the economic crisis. He was at home when the explosion happened and witnessed his home collapse around him. He recalls glass shards flying at his body, even getting in his teeth, and watching his father’s hands get ripped off.

“We barely earn enough to buy food and the basics,” he reports. He says that he feels as though the blast has set Lebanon back 100 years.

The explosion has taken an emotional toll. Anto says he feels like a completely different person following the explosion. “Now I can’t be happy… I don’t know if there will be another crisis,” he shares. “…We barely sleep at night. I don’t worry about myself much, but I worry about my parents and my family.”

Anto and his family are receiving help to deal with the trauma. They have been visited by volunteers from Oxfam partner the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH), who are conducting assessments to understand the mental health needs of people affected by explosion. After assessing their needs, Pamela, a volunteer with CLDH, reports that the organization is providing medicine, mental health support and legal support to families.

Reaching the most vulnerable

We are working with 11 Lebanese organizations to ensure that Beirut’s most marginalized people are not left behind and instead have the support they need to recover from the blast.

Our partner-led response is providing over 9,000 people with support, ranging from emergency cash and food, medical services, mental health support, legal assistance, and help to repair and rebuild homes and businesses. We will focus on supporting local leadership, and prioritize reaching people with disabilities, the elderly, women and girls—who are now at greater risk of violence because of unsafe houses—migrant workers, refugees, and the LGBTQ+ community.

“We are worried that the growing inequality and suffering we were already seeing in some of Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities—like refugees and migrant workers, the elderly, and LGBTQ+ community —will only get worse, and they will fall even farther behind,” says Ayoub.

But there is still too much that needs to be done for Beirut to begin to recover. Celine El Kik, a worker from KAFA, one of the organizations Oxfam is partnering with, says the mental scars of the blast will linger long after the physical damage has been repaired. “The port explosion affected all of us,” she says, “but especially women who were already vulnerable. We're providing social and legal support, as well as cash assistance for people who lost their jobs or their houses.”

Oxfam is calling for fair and just distribution of aid to provide critical support to these vulnerable communities and people who will be unable to cope and rebuild their lives without targeted and transparent aid.

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