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One year after Beirut explosion, the city is still rebuilding

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Michelle Bitar stands in the living room of her family home, just a few hundred meters from the port of Beirut. Like many in Beirut, she and her family are still working on reconstructing their homes and lives. Firas Haidar/Oxfam

Residents of Beirut continue to put their homes and lives back together during an economic crisis in Lebanon. Oxfam is working with local groups to help families and businesses rebuild.

When Abed, a volunteer civil defense worker, got the call to come help put out a fire at the port of Beirut last year, he closed his small shop and reported for duty. It was at the fire station when he was getting his equipment that the blast hit: “Suddenly, I heard a bang, and felt intense pressure,” he says, recounting that day, August 4, now a year later. “Every single window flew off and hit me.”

Nearly a month later he lost his left leg to his injuries, and can now no longer work or properly support his three young daughters.

More than 211 people lost their lives in the Beirut explosion, 7,000 suffered injuries, and 300,000 were displaced. The incident is being described as a crime by the victims’ families and activists, who hold politicians responsible for keeping dangerous ammonium nitrate chemicals in the Port of Beirut for over seven years.

Abed is one of the many thousands injured in the Beirut port explosion who have spent the last year struggling to recover. Lebanon, already facing a political and economic crisis before the explosion last year, has since spiraled into an even worse situation. The Lebanese lira has lost over 92 percent of its value to the US dollar in the parallel market, causing prices of essential items, including food necessities, to double and triple. Basic resources are scarce in country, with people queuing for hours at gas stations to fill up their tanks. Medicines are not unavailable in pharmacies.

“The multiple crises that have hit the country before the blast, and which continued to worsen after it, are affecting all residents of Lebanon like never before,” said Bachir Ayoub, Oxfam’s acting country director. “We are headed towards a humanitarian crisis that is already starting to manifest its effects, with more than 75 percent of the population in need of some form of assistance.”

Parts of Beirut only have electricity for about two hours per day, and the entire country is suffering high rates of inflation, making food nearly unaffordable for more than 75 percent of households, according to UN agency UNICEF.

What Oxfam is doing to help people in Beirut

In response to the August 4 explosion, Oxfam has adapted its programs, and is partnering with 11 local organizations to provide emergency relief like cash assistance, food, sanitation, and shelter materials. Since the blast last year, Oxfam and partners have assisted more than 14,000 people, more than half of them women.

We have also helped to provide longer-term resources for people to rebuild their homes and businesses, support for mental and physical health, legal assistance, and more, making sure that marginalized groups, such as women, girls, migrant workers, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQI community’s needs are identified and met.

“The needs after the blast were immense, and the LGBTQI community was affected enormously, especially when it comes to access to safe spaces, mental health services, and basic needs,” said Tarek Zeidan, executive director of Helem, one of Oxfam’s partners working on LGBTQI rights. “One year on, and nothing has gotten better; we are still seeking justice, fighting for our basic rights, and attempting to survive the crises that are suffocating our country.”

Michelle Bitar, a young woman who survived injuries in the explosion in Beirut, says she is grateful she is still there. Her family home is just a few hundred meters from the port. “Thank God I can stand on my two feet,” she says in her family’s apartment, still undergoing re- construction, “so I can be there for my parents.”

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