A year ago, Lebanon faced a severe economic crisis and an unstable social context aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, a brutal explosion devastated the port of Beirut, leading to significant increases in immediate humanitarian needs.
The blast killed more than 200 people, injured more than 6,000, and severely damaged infrastructure in Lebanon's capital, particularly the homes and businesses of some 250,000 people. The explosion has also increased unemployment and food insecurity for thousands of people.
“One year after the Beirut blast, the situation is catastrophic for Lebanese citizens, refugees, and migrants. Poverty is on the rise, putting additional pressure on families who were traumatized by the explosion. The economic, political, social, and sanitation crisis in Lebanon is alarming,” says Suzanne Takkenberg, Action Against Hunger Country Director in Lebanon.
“Access to water, sanitation, food, nutrition and livelihoods is a serious concern for the population,” she continues. “Any response to this crisis should guarantee access to basic needs while providing structural support in Beirut and across the country.”
The Lebanese economy, weakened by a governance crisis, closed trade routes, the conflict in neighboring Syria, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has collapsed. The banking and financial systems are also on the verge of collapse. The country’s GDP has fallen by an estimated 40 percent, according to the World Bank, and more than half of the population lives below the poverty line. Unemployment is on the rise, making it difficult for residents to meet their basic needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic and measures to contain the virus, including border closures and movement restrictions, have put thousands of people's lives at risk by limiting their ability to generate income. Access to water and sanitation services, electricity, fuel, and health services have been strained. The explosion one year ago disrupted economic activities and access to public services and infrastructure even further, exacerbating the crisis.
With limited options to survive, families have been forced to adopt coping mechanisms, such as reducing the size and number of daily meals, restricting consumption of some foods, and taking out loans. This has resulted in increased food insecurity and malnutrition rates. According to World Food Program (WFP) data, 22% of Lebanese, 50% of Syrian refugees and 33% of refugees of other nationalities are food insecure.
In the year since the blast, many shops and businesses have been forced to close: "When the explosion happened, I was at home. I had a shift at the hospital, I didn't go because my whole house was damaged. My husband's feet were injured, the doctors wanted to amputate them," recalls Suzanne, a Lebanese woman who worked as a nurse until the disaster occurred. Since then, because of her husband's injuries, Suzanne quit her job and now runs the family business, a bakery she inherited from her father.
Micro, small, and medium-sized businesses account for more than 97 percent of all private businesses in Lebanon and employ more than 50 percent of the country's workforce. In addition to the impacts of COVID-19 and the port explosion, continued electricity cuts and fuel shortages have placed an immense burden on these struggling companies.
Since the explosion, Action Against Hunger has supporting businesses through cash assistance and professional advice, helping to revive household economies and local commerce. Our teams have also helped survivors of the blast with emergency cash and professional trainings.
Action Against Hunger has been working in Lebanon since 2006 with a team of more than 150 people. We are one of the main organizations supplying water and sanitation to the informal settlements where 1.5 million Syrian refugees live. Our goal is to improve the living conditions of people in vulnerable situations, ensuring access to basic water and sanitation, health and nutrition services, and strengthening their livelihoods. Last year, our programs reached more than 68,000 people.