Inflammation and stories on Lebanon

Hunger in Lebanon
Three recent events in Lebanon have crucially impacted its ability to feed its people. Conversely, there are three organizations or political actors working to combat the devastating hunger and guide Lebanon toward food security. Here are three recent crises and three organizations that are working to provide aid and reduce hunger in Lebanon.

The Beirut Explosion

On August 4, 2020, an explosion devastated the port of Beirut, Lebanon. Without a functioning port, the country is missing 65% to 80% of its food imports. The explosion destroyed 15,000 metric tons of wheat and the main grain silos. The disaster at the port has exacerbated hunger in Lebanon by preventing and delaying access to food, while also increasing the cost of imported food.

The World Food Programme (WFP)

As of early August 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) agreed to distribute 5,000 food parcels to families currently suffering from hunger in Lebanon in light of the explosion. Each package includes necessities such as rice, sugar and oil and contains enough ingredients to feed five people for one month. Moreover, the World Food Programme has partnered with the government’s National Poverty Targeting Programme to provide over 100,000 Lebanese people with prepaid debit cards so they can purchase groceries. Lastly, the organization, in partnership with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivered 8.5 metric tons of surgical and trauma equipment to Beirut two days after the explosion. Not only will this equipment help those the disaster affected, but it will also allow the country to focus on repairing the port, which is crucial to its survival.

The Challenges of COVID-19

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has made it significantly more difficult for families to put food on the table, and Lebanon is no exception. Relieving the devastating effects of the virus has become more important than addressing food insecurity. In a recent study that the World Food Programme conducted, due to the virus, one in three workers have found themselves unemployed and one in five workers have seen a pay cut. Moreover, there has been a country-wide halt in channeling resources toward hunger, as they have all gone toward the containment of COVID-19.

The United Nations

The United Nations has involved itself in providing aid to Lebanon during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF, an organization that provides aid to children across the globe, has created an eight-point plan for countries in the Middle East and North Africa dealing with the combined effects of COVID-19 and food insecurity. There are three points in particular that are closely related to the inability to afford food due to COVID-19. These points include establishing job and income security for those who perform agricultural or casual labor and instigating social protection schemes and community programs for the benefit of vulnerable groups and those who are unemployed due to lockdowns. The aforementioned will ensure access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods. Another point involves creating a food security and nutrition surveillance system that will collect and update necessary information to identify populations at risk and address factors that will negatively affect said populations.

Furthermore, the UNHCR, a refugee agency, has allocated $43 million as of late August 2020 in response to the coronavirus and its effects. This aid will allow Lebanon to purchase proper medical equipment and create isolation units, both of which will help treat those suffering from the virus and slow its spread. As a result, Lebanon can renew its feverous efforts on solving hunger.

Political and Economic Turmoil

Since October 2019, an extensive list including corruption and civil unrest has led Lebanon’s economy to the tip of a very steep iceberg. The Lebanese pound has since lost over 80% of its value, thousands of businesses have gone under and candlelight is the new normal. Due to these extreme changes in the political and economic climates, hunger in Lebanon has reached an unprecedented level, affecting citizens and refugees alike. To bridge their income gap, citizens have reported spending less money on food, an intuitively counteractive response. As for the 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon due to civil war in their home country, nearly 200,000 have reported going 24 hours without eating, and 360,000 have reported skipping meals.

Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity has been providing help to Lebanon. The branch of this organization based in Great Britain employs tradesmen and builders from the Lebanese and Syrian communities in order to complete its various infrastructure projects in Lebanon. For example, empty and distressed buildings that vulnerable families reside have undergone rehabilitation. Rehabilitation efforts included water and sanitation upgrades, heat and solar light installation and the addition of necessary furniture such as beds. During this process, the spaces were either free or had reduced rent. Not only does this benefit the community by providing jobs which in turn boosts the economy, but it also allows families to focus their resources on food as opposed to shelter, an issue specific to refugees.

Despite how daunting the aforementioned issues are, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Various global organizations are taking action to bring attention to and end hunger in Lebanon. As resources and support continue to pour into the country, the people of Lebanon will begin to see brighter days.

– Mary Qualls
Photo: Flickr

ngos in lebanonBordered by Syria, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon is a Middle Eastern nation of almost 7 million citizens. Its history has only grown in complexity since it gained independence from France in 1944. Lebanese people have faced civil war, political and economic instability, border disputes and human rights violations into the present day. Thankfully, many NGOs in Lebanon work to address these issues. NGOs have supported the Lebanese people in suppressing terror, promoting gender equality, ending militarization, advocating for human rights and recovering from the Beirut explosion. Paramount to Lebanon’s security and future are not just improved government and policies, but also these NGOs on the ground.

Terrorism

In 2019 alone, four major terrorist groups posed an ongoing threat to Lebanon’s national security. Three acts of terrorism that year sparked an unprecedented governmental and legislative response. Lebanon is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and recently launched a national Preventing Violent Extremism Coordination Unit. However, the Lebanese people’s long-standing lack of trust in government remains. This is where NGOs in Lebanon come in.

Since 1985, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an American NGO, has promoted peace in Lebanon. The NGO identifies Lebanese entities actively promoting terror from within the government, such as Green Without Borders. The institute proposes counteracting these entities from abroad by publishing research and pushing policies for financial transparency. Its work is therefore vital to an effective government free from ties to terrorism.

Gender Inequality

Even though Lebanese women got the right to vote in 1952, gender inequities and violence remain among Lebanon’s most critical issues. In 2020, Lebanon ranked 145th among 153 countries in closing the gender gap. This ranking represents variables such as economic participation, educational attainment, health, survival and political empowerment. With women holding just 4.7% of parliamentary seats, NGOs in Lebanon are working to pave the way for female representation in government to empower marginalized citizens.

While global humanitarian groups have funded many gender equity campaigns in Lebanon, NGOs in Lebanon, like the feminist collective Nasawiya, spearhead much of the cultural change. Nasawiya advocates not just for the humane treatment and representation of women, but also for all genders and identities within Lebanon. With 11 projects underway, Nasawiya lobbies the Lebanese government and provides resources for women affected victimized by gender violence.

Militarized Justice Systems

Although Lebanon is officially a unitary multiparty republic with a parliamentary system of government, its justice systems are increasingly militarizing. Lebanon’s controversial pattern of suppressing peaceful civilian protests has garnered international attention as its use of military courts grows. In Lebanon, trials in military courts lack qualified judges, permit torture-induced confessions as evidence, issue inconsistent and lengthy sentences and fail to deliver due process. This affects more than just adults. Indeed, the Union for Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon identified 355 children tried before the military courts in 2016 alone.

As the line between the Lebanese justice system and the military blurs, prosecutors have even brought charges against human rights lawyers and activists who oppose them. NGOs like Helem, which advocates for LGBT rights, are working to hold courts accountable to their victims. The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law and other NGOs in Lebanon have launched further investigations into Lebanon’s militarized courts. By publicizing records and providing credible research, they promote justice in Lebanon.

Migrant and Refugee Rights

An estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees and over 250,000 migrant workers from neighboring countries reside in Lebanon. Unfortunately, exclusionary immigration and refugee policies have created a human rights crisis. Migrant workers and refugees in Lebanon work in unregulated conditions, lack permanent residency and are victims of mass evictions. In 2017, 76% of refugee and migrant households lived below the poverty line. Additionally, 77% experienced food insecurity and 36% lacked an employed family member.

NGOs in Lebanon like International Alert advocate both for reforming the justice system and improving refugee and migrant rights. International Alert promotes policies targeted at improving legal conditions for these marginalized populations in Lebanon. Care, another NGO, also works on the ground to provide interim resources and housing for refugees and migrants in Lebanon.

The Beirut Explosion

When 3,030 tons of ammonium nitrate stored near a port in Beirut caught on fire and exploded in early August 2020, at least 200 people died, over 6,000 were injured and several hundred remain missing. The severe damage inflicted on some 70,000 homes left an estimated 300,000 Lebanese homeless. The Lebanese Red Cross met a large part of the urgent need for humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people affected by the explosion. This NGO has provided free medical care to over 23,700 people  through 36 health centers and nine mobile medical units.

The Lebanese Red Cross is also providing shelter for 1,000 displaced families and is expanding to help a projected 10,000 families. Additionally, the organization provides families with food, water, masks, gloves and other supplies. Another facet of this NGO, the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, reconnects separated families. It also provides mental health and counseling resources for victims.

NGOs in Lebanon Continue the Fight

While the Lebanese people continue to suffer from a legacy of conflict, instability, inequality and oppression, NGOs are working hard to help mitigate these critical issues. NGOs in Lebanon strive to improve human rights to help bring peace and prosperity to this Middle Eastern nation.

– Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

effect on educationFor years, Lebanon has been a great place to go to school. In math and science education, the country of Lebanon ranks fourth in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. The explosion that occurred on August 4th, 2020, however, destroyed about 120 public and private schools in Beirut. The obstruction of schools will inevitably result in the obstruction of the Lebanese right to education and upwards movement in society. This article analyzes the blast’s effect on education, and how a lack of education resources in Beirut may lead to further concerns of poverty.

The Explosion

A lethal blast occurred at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon in early August. The explosion killed at least 200 people, according to the BBC, and injured around 5,000. It began as what seemed to be a warehouse fire, but it soon evolved into a catastrophic, supersonic blast that penetrated a large portion of the city. Before the explosion, Lebanon was already in an economic crisis. Nearly half of the population (45%) lives under the poverty line; the explosion has only worsened this number. Beirut’s governor stated that the financial damage to the city is $10-15 billion. The tragedy’s effect on education is a pervasive concern.

How Schools Are Impacted

Beirut was the education, publishing, and cultural capital of Lebanon, as asserted by Al-Fanar Media. With its well-known universities, Beirut was a place for locals and tourists alike to admire. The destruction to the city, though, is causing a major halt to the flourishing academic hub. The damages done to these universities amount to millions of dollars, according to the media advisor at the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Albert Chamoun.

Lebanon’s only public university, Lebanese University, has seen the worst damage out of all of Beirut’s universities. Given the financial status of Lebanon before the blast, the tragedy has only worsened the state of the university. Permanent closures may cost faculty their jobs, thus threatening them with potential poverty. Moreover, Collège du Sacré Coeur-Frères, or the Sacred Hear-Brothers College, founded in 1894, is another school affected by the blast. Considering that the school had 1,300 students enrolled, the destruction of the building hinders students’ ability to go back to school anytime soon, leaving them at home. The effects on education extend to faculty, students, and students’ families.

Future Poverty

In a country already riddled with poverty, “Lack of access to education is a major predictor of passing poverty from one generation to the next”. Schools and universities, like Lebanese University, are oftentimes young people’s only hope in moving up socioeconomically. Attaining literacy and numeracy skills greatly aids a young person’s ability to get a job in the future. Coupling this with the COVID-19 pandemic, online-learning is also not accessible for all students; many depend on in-person teaching simply because they do not have access to technology nor the internet while at home. The blast only furthered this technology gap, resulting in worse poverty for those involved in the tragic event.

According to Governer Marwan Abboud, about 300,000 people are currently without a home in Beirut. Without the reconstruction of schools, Lebanese children and young people face the lifelong threat of remaining in poverty. Therefore, the blast’s lasting effect on education directly relates to its’ effect on poverty levels in Lebanon.

Taking Action

The tragedy that occurred in Beirut is one that will permeate throughout the country for years to come. The effect on education is just one consequence of the deadly blast. Luckily, there are fundraisers and other efforts in place to help those affected by the Beirut blast, many of which involve education. Linked here is a GoFundMe to raise money for computers for students at Sacred Heart-Brothers College that do not have access to technology at home. In addition, UNICEF is helping reconstruct the damaged buildings in Beirut and aid Lebanese people across the country. They have delivered close to 20 shipments of PPE, nutrition supplies, and other hygiene necessities. They have also provided psycho-social first aid to children affected, along with caregivers that offer health referrals and counseling.

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has proposed a fundraising appeal called Li Beirut, or “For Beirut.” The purpose of this fundraising is to reconstruct schools and museums that were affected by the blast. This proposal has the potential to help many children and adolescence retain their right to education and to move up in their economic class.

Anna Hoban
Photo: Pixabay

beirut explosionOn Aug. 4th, 2020, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the port in Beirut, Lebanon. This disaster killed more than 180 people, injured over 5,000 and displaced more than 250,000 people. The Beirut explosion also led to more than $10 billion  in damage in the surrounding areas. After the deadly Beirut explosion, countless celebrities shared tributes. Many also donated or directed their followers to donate to various relief efforts. Here are 10 celebrities who helped Beirut after the August explosion.

10 Celebrities Who Helped After the Beirut Explosion

  1. George and Amal Clooney: The power couple donated $100,000 to three charities helping with relief efforts. These included the Lebanese Red Cross, Impact Lebanon and Baytna Baytak. The latter organization aimed to provide relief to Lebanese people in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, after the explosion, the group became more focused on finding shelter for people made homeless or dislocated. In an online statement referencing this organization, the Clooneys said, “We’re both deeply concerned for the people of Beirut and the devastation they’ve faced in the last few days. We will be donating to these charities $100,000 and hope that others will help in any way they can.”
  2. Madonna: The pop singer and two of her children, David Banda and Mercy James, hosted an art sale and donated the proceeds to Impact Lebanon. The organization works with the Lebanese Red Cross to provide aid to victims affected by the blast. Madonna and her family made tie-dye shirts and paintings to raise money, which the singer posted on Instagram.
  3. Rihanna: The singer and businesswoman took to Twitter to persuade her followers to donate to four charities helping with relief in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion. These included Impact Lebanon, Save The Children, the Sadalsuud Foundation and Preemptive Love. Save The Children helps children and families displaced and injured by the disaster. Rihanna’s support for the Sadalsuud Foundation will help it foster community strength and growth through education and baking. Finally, Preemptive Love is a peacemaking and peacebuilding coalition designed to bring an end to violence and war and affect people affected by disasters.
  4. Bella Hadid: The model, whose father is from Lebanon, donated to 13 charities in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion. These included the Lebanese Red Cross, Offre Joie, Impact Lebanon, Bank To School, Arc En Ciel, Bassma, Sesobel and Nusaned. Previously, Hadid has donated to Save The Children, Preemptive Love, UNICEF, International Medical Corps and the Lebanese Food Bank. She also directed her Instagram followers to donate, urging them toward local charities to help pinpoint community needs. Lastly, Hadid has vowed to continue donating.
  5. The Weeknd: The singer donated $300,000 to Global Aid for Lebanon, which supports the World Food Programme, the Lebanese Red Cross and the Children’s Cancer Centre Lebanon. The Weeknd’s donation comes after his manager, Wassim Slaiby, and Slaiby’s wife, Rima Fakih, led efforts for donations. On Instagram, Slaiby thanked The Weeknd for his donation. She also thanked Live Nation, including CEO Michael Rapino, for donating $50,000 to relief efforts.
  6. Rima Fahik and Wassim “Sal” Slaiby: The former Miss USA and her business manager husband, both from Lebanon, launched a campaign with Global Citizen to help in the aftermath of the Beirut Explosion. The fund supports Red Cross Lebanon, the United Nations World Food Programme and the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon. The couple kicked off the initiative by donating $250,000.
  7. Russell Crowe: The actor donated $5,000 to the destroyed restaurant Le Chef, which had resided in the Gemmayze neighborhood of Beirut since 1967. On his Twitter page, Crowe said he donated to this restaurant in honor of his late friend, Anthony Bordain. While Bordain was filming his show “No Reservations” in 2006, he visited the restaurant.
  8. Jose Andres: The World Central Kitchen founder and celebrity chef mobilized a team in Beirut and partnered with chef Kamal Mouzawak. Together, they gave out over 800 sandwiches and meals to healthcare workers, first responders and elderly citizens. The organization states that its efforts provided thousands of additional meals to those in need in Beirut. Lastly, it hoped to give people what they needed to stimulate the local economy once again.
  9. Mia Khalifa: The media personality, sports commentator and former adult actress auctioned the trademark glasses that she wore in her adult films to support Lebanon after the explosion. She donated all proceeds to the Lebanese Red Cross. The bidding ended on Aug. 16, with the top bid at $100,000.
  10. Harry Styles: The former One Direction member donated to Impact Lebanon, directing his Twitter followers to do the same. He then tweeted out a link through the crowdfunding site JustGiving. Style’s fundraising effort has so far raised close to $8.1 million for people impacted by the disaster.

While the damage and casualties in Beirut were extensive, celebrities and figures from around the world came together to help after the Beirut explosion. Moreover, many of these celebrities are helping Beirut continue to come together for not only economic but also personal reasons.

– Bryan Boggiano
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women’s Rights in Lebanon
Although making some positive strides in recent years, Lebanon is still behind some of its regional counterparts when it comes to women’s rights. Women in Lebanon still lack important protections against abuse and violence, personal status laws and representation under civil and religious law. Here are seven facts about women’s rights in Lebanon.

7 Facts About Women’s Rights in Lebanon

  1. Civil Code vs. Religious Laws: Lebanon has 15 personal status laws that are religion-based (Shia, Sunni and Druze) but has no civil code covering personal status issues such as divorce, custody of children or property rights. The religious courts preside over cases of personal status and operate with very little government oversight, resulting in the repeated violation of women’s rights. Because Lebanon’s constitution guarantees respect for “personal status and religious interests,” religious authorities have been keeping personal status laws under their control.
  2. Domestic Violence: The Lebanese parliament passed a domestic violence law in 2014, which includes protection measures, such as restraining orders and policing and court reforms, as well as funding to enact the reforms. The law also introduced an official definition of domestic violence into the Lebanese criminal code. However, Lebanese women are still at risk of marital rape, which because of pressure from religious authorities, is not apart of the criminal code. A spouse’s threat or violence to claim “marital right to intercourse” is a crime, but the actual physical act is not.
  3. Migrant Domestic Workers: The Kafala system allows migrants, mainly women from Africa and South East Asia, to work in Lebanon as domestic workers. The employers of the workers are in charge of their legal residency, as well as whether they can change or leave employers. Labor law protections, like minimum wage, working hour limits and overtime pay, exclude migrant workers. This lack of employer accountability often leads to cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. In March 2020, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Ministry of Labour met to discuss the reform of the Kafala system, but no legislation has been introduced as of yet.
  4. Child Marriage: Lebanon currently has no national minimum age of marriage. Instead, religious courts regulate when people can marry. The Human Rights Watch found that early marriage can lead to a higher risk of marital rape, exploitation, domestic violence and health problems. Those most at risk include Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Lebanon has committed to eliminating child marriage by 2030 and reducing it by 20% by 2020. Currently, the Lebanese Higher Council for Childhood is developing a national strategy and action plan to address this problem. However, many drafts of law raising the legal age of marriage to 18 have not passed through the Lebanese parliament because of religious backlash.
  5. Representation in Politics: The Lebanese government created the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, however, this is largely symbolic and the first minister is a man. The Global Gender Report Gap states that gender equality in politics stands at 0.01%, as Lebanon has never had a woman as head of state and 97% of parliament is male. Currently, women’s organizations in Lebanon are demanding that parliament set a quota that 30% of seats should be for women, as no quota currently exists.
  6. Nationality Law: Lebanese women cannot pass their nationality to their children or foreign husbands, unlike Lebanese men. This deprives children of citizenship and increases the risk of statelessness. The Lebanese government has failed to address this issue, citing the threat of naturalization and resettlement of Palestinian and Syrian refugees as a reason not to change this law for women. The only exception is for unmarried mothers, as this group can pass on their nationality to their child if one year has passed and the child is still nationless.
  7. Activism in Lebanon: One prominent group advocating for women in Lebanon is KAFA. It is a feminist, secular, Lebanese, nonprofit organization fighting against discrimination against women. The organization focuses on family violence, human trafficking and child protection. This group was instrumental in the passing of the law against domestic violence in Lebanon’s parliament.

Many of the setbacks women face are the product of the fact that approximately 2.7 million people in Lebanon are living in poverty. Men, who have historically always held political and religious power, deprive women of rights as a strategy to keep women and children financially tied to men. This means money stays in the hands of majority groups and used at their discretion. However, many international and domestic groups are fighting through institutions and on the ground for representation, protection and power. This activism and attention may lead to a large improvement in women’s rights in Lebanon in the years to come.

– Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

explosion in beirutLebanon has long served as a bustling commercial hub for the Middle East. However, in recent years, its burgeoning economic crisis has shifted more and more of its population below the poverty line. This crisis results from a multitude of factors, including Lebanon’s pile-up of debt and the Syrian crisis. This already souring situation took a turn for the worst on Aug. 4, 2020 when an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, left 177 dead, 6,000 wounded and around 300,000 people homeless. Devastating by every stretch of the word, the explosion in Beirut impacted all types of people. Even so, its impact has been felt in different ways across the population. Efforts to recover and rebuild have often overlooked the poorest communities, exacerbating poverty in Lebanon.

Poverty in Lebanon

Much of Lebanon’s poor come from the refugee population. In all, 25% of Lebanon’s population is comprised of refugees, in large part due to the Syrian crisis. This crisis, socio-economic unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic have only kept refugees and other vulnerable families below the poverty line. Just under half of Lebanon’s population is accordingly food insecure. The explosion in Beirut, through which 70% of Lebanon’s commerce takes place, has further crippled an already floundering economy. It has left Lebanon ill-prepared to care for its native people on top of the refugee population it has taken in.

The Poor Take the Backseat in Times of Crisis

Already a vulnerable population in more certain times, the poor fall further when a crisis hits. Impoverished people may struggle to access healthcare and safe shelter during crises. Homeless and low-income populations may struggle to meet their daily needs more during a crisis, when those needs become more precarious and expensive. Furthermore, people with more resources are often better equipped to access available aid and resources. A good example of this phenomenon is the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Many people are concerned about low-income populations obtaining shelter and having access to clean water and medical care.

Similar worries crop up with the crisis in Beirut. Because a large number of people lost their homes, the explosion in Beirut thrust many into homelessness. This made it harder for many people to access shelter and medical aid. Though capacity issues already plague the homeless seeking shelter in Lebanon, the explosion in Beirut created a new wave of displaced people looking for a place to stay. With limited resources, homeless and low-income populations are at an automatic disadvantage for securing their needs.

Long-Term Impacts of the Explosion in Beirut

The explosion in Beirut has launched Lebanon into a series of severe shortages when resources were already tight. After predictions of a low harvest in the months to come with rising crop prices, experts were already concerned about food security for Lebanon’s vulnerable. However, the explosion in Beirut destroyed 15,000 metric tons of wheat stored in nearby silos. In response, various world leaders convened a summit to pledge funds toward the country. They aim to respond both to the disaster as well as to COVID-19’s strain on the nation’s economy and healthcare system.

Before the explosion, Beirut’s healthcare system was already under pressure from the country’s economic downturn. By destroying five major hospitals and 12 primary healthcare centers, the explosion in Beirut further strained this system. Lebanon’s major drug supply was also destroyed, leaving the country with a crippling shortage of essential medications while demand skyrocketed.

In addition, the blast damaged more than 8,000 buildings, leaving many displaced and homeless. Architects and engineers have started a grassroots effort to collect donations and rebuild people’s homes. However, the concern of money weighs heavily on the project, threatening to kneecap it before it has fulfilled its purpose. In all, the population fears that the world will forget Beirut and leave it to deal with the long-term effects of the explosion on its own.

Rebuilding Beirut will be a lengthy process. In the meantime, members of the displaced community are struggling to get their daily needs met. The people of Lebanon lack no determination to do so: all they need are the resources to rebuild and recover.

Catherine Lin 
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in Lebanon
On the evening of August 4, 2020, a column of smoke loomed menacingly over Beirut’s vast horizon, foreshadowing tragedy in shades of gray and black. Flashes of white and glimpses of smoldering orange interrupted the inky cloud as it climbed to ever-greater heights. With a deafening blast, a massive shock wave consumed the city in the smoke and terror of 3,000 metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate. In a matter of seconds, the detonation inflicted an estimated $15 billion in property damage. Far more priceless, the human toll of the explosion stands at least 200, with thousands more wounded. In the tearful wake of the blast, the Lebanese people are hemorrhaging hope. Yet the horrific explosion is not merely a chance disaster: it is a symptom of the corruption in Lebanon that is eating the country from the inside out.

History of Corruption in Lebanon

Lebanon has long endured institutionalized corruption. Its current government system formed after the previous regime’s ineptitude eroded national security to the point of civil war. The war lasted from 1975-1990. The conflict occurred between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Christian groups backed by Israel and Syria, with both seeking political control over Lebanon. After 25 years of fighting, over 100,000 killed and thousands more uprooted, the conflict finally ended with the signing of the Taif Accord. This accord shaped the constitution into a document conducive to graft.

A government system that allotted public offices to major religious groups supplanted years of instability. This new framework nurtured the sectarianism that still dominates Lebanon’s politics today. Additionally, the presence of extreme polarization favors patronage over democracy. The champions of the civil war quickly grabbed power of the nascent government, bringing with them their blatant, unchecked corruption.

How Corruption in Lebanon Exacerbates Poverty

For years, Lebanon’s political leaders have enjoyed glittering affluence despite the country’s abysmal underdevelopment. Widespread embezzlement and underfunding of vital public services have gravely fractured Lebanon’s rickety foundation. In particular, a series of recent catastrophes have drawn international attention to the injustices long borne by the Lebanese people:

  1. Economic Crisis: A dire economic crisis has been ravaging the country for months. With a debt-to-GDP ratio of 170%, Lebanon is the world’s third most indebted nation. Even prior to COVID-19, one-quarter of the population was unemployed, and hyperinflation was driving prices to astronomic levels, dragging more and more citizens into poverty.
  2. Lack of Basic Services: Lebanon’s politicians have chosen personal enrichment over public welfare, leading to dismal internet connectivity, insufficient health care, contaminated water and unreliable power sources. Moreover, in the absence of infrastructure, sanitation deficiencies recently culminated in a massive accumulation of waste that attracted global coverage.
  3. Natural Disaster: A series of fierce wildfires in October 2019 sparked public outrage when fire departments proved ineffective in extinguishing the blaze. The destructive calamity called attention to the severe underfunding of Lebanon’s crisis response teams.
  4. COVID-19: The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has heightened unemployment, inflation and poverty. Consequently, the country experienced increased food insecurity and risk of famine, with the three-quarters of the population on track to require food handouts by the end of 2020. The pandemic has strained limited health care institutions, depriving thousands of vital treatment and underscoring the government’s neglect of public services. Overall, COVID-19 has delivered incredible hardship to a country already saturated with adversity. The blame for Lebanon’s innumerable development problems falls upon its leaders’ ineffectual leadership. Their failure or refusal to address long-standing infrastructural shortcomings in favor of self-indulgence has put the country on the brink of collapse.

Forces for Change

Despite the widespread corruption in Lebanon, downtrodden citizens and empathetic foreigners are striving to implement much-needed reforms.

Public outcry has led to numerous recent power shifts. In October 2019, massive demonstrations, set off by a proposed tax increase, united Lebanon’s diverse political sects against government abuses. This monumental display of solidarity ultimately ousted then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his administration and led to the induction of Hassan Diab.

The international community has joined this fight against corruption in Lebanon. On August 9, 2020, a global summit of donors authorized $298 million to directly help the Lebanese population. This relief package suggests a departure from previous payments of aid to the government. This practice fostered embezzlement by leaders and eroded the regime’s accountability to the public. Fortifying their stance against corruption, the forum also announced that Lebanon must enact long-overdue reforms to qualify for further funding.

Demanding Change

As the world demands change for Lebanon, recent headlines have chronicled the country’s myriad crises. The blast in Beirut is no different than these struggles: it is a product of the political abuse that has crippled Lebanon for years. The port authority seized the ammonium nitrate that exploded in 2013 and left it “awaiting auction” or a spark to ignite it, whichever came first. Early investigations have revealed the government’s full awareness of the compound’s improper storage: it just did not do anything about it. Instead, the government ignored repeated warnings from experts and postponed handling the issue to a later date. Tragically, chemistry beat them to it.

Once again reminded of the lethal consequences of inaction, protests previously hampered by COVID-19 have revived. These impassioned riots led to the resignation of Diab’s government on August 10, 2020. This event threatens to magnify the country’s instability. Despite widespread anxieties, however, Diab articulated his intention to “stand with the people,” a move that, if adopted the world over, may finally heal Lebanon’s long-borne suffering.

Rosalind Coats
Photo: Wikimedia

explosion in BeirutOrganizations all over the world have come together to provide aid after the explosion in Beirut, which killed over 200 citizens on Aug. 4. Medical emergencies, homelessness and food insecurity were all matters of immediate importance identified by these various organizations. Listed below are eight of those organizations as well as information on what they have done to help.

Organizations Helping Lebanon

  1. The British Red Cross created an emergency fund for medical assistance for those affected by the blast. Working with the Lebanese Red Cross, the organization provided immediate medical care to those in need. This critical medical care includes anything from the treatment of potentially lethal injuries to the mental health care needed to cope with the loss of a loved one.
  2. The United Nations’ World Food Programme has focused on providing food to people in Beirut. According to the U.N., the blast not only destroyed grain stores at the port but also threatens future food security, as most of Lebanon’s food comes through the Beirut port. This has only exacerbated an already existing food insecurity problem in the country. In response, the U.N. has sought to distribute 150,000 parcels of food to citizens.
  3. Humanity and Inclusion, an American NGO, sent 100 members to lead critical rehabilitation services. Though the explosion damaged the organization’s Beirut offices, none of its members were injured. The organization sent 100 members to lead critical rehabilitation services, going straight to work providing care for others.
  4. Islamic Relief USA, an organization that provides disaster relief and development aid, has been working in Lebanon since 2006. Accordingly, the organization was quick to react to the explosion. It sought to create supply chains for emergency aid that will have long-lasting effects.
  5. After the explosion in Beirut, UNICEF sent members on the ground to assist with distributing medical supplies and helping first responders. It also handed out items such as blankets and hygiene kits to those in need. UNICEF has estimated, however, that it will need $47 million to properly assist the citizens affected by the blast.
  6. Project HOPE has focused on communicating with health officials to distribute medical supplies. The organization has four emergency health kits that volunteers will disperse, with each kit capable of providing support for 10,000 people. Project HOPE aims to give out even more supplies to those affected by the explosion in the future.
  7. In the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut, Save the Children reported that approximately 80,000 children were displaced. The children’s hospital was also destroyed. Last year, the organization was able to help 85,000 children in Lebanon. In the wake of the explosion, it has teams ready to aid efforts for emergency medical relief.
  8. The International Rescue Committee has provided funds to local organizations in Beirut, focusing on the need for emergency psychological care. According to the organization, 150,000 women and girls were displaced by the blast. Accordingly, the International Rescue Committee has also assisted with cash aid to those affected, to prevent possible abuse and exploitation.

Emergency aid after the explosion in Beirut has become a primary focus of each of these organizations as well as many more. As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the world, it is even more critical that citizens of Lebanon get the help they need as quickly as possible.

– Aradia Webb
Photo: Flickr

Nonprofits in Lebanon
On August 4, 2020, life in the Lebanese city of Beirut a city with a larger population than Houston changed forever. Two explosions at a port containing ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical, sent shock waves that could be felt as far as 100 miles away. More than 150 people have died and thousands more hospitalized, in need of recovery from various injuries. In response to this recent disaster, nonprofits in Lebanon have launched initiatives to provide critical assistance.

Implications of the Beirut Explosions

Since the explosion — many have gone and remain missing, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed and the Prime Minister has resigned. Life for Lebanon’s 2 million residents has seen a drastic, negative shift — due to these tragic and catastrophic events.

However, the global community has rushed to Lebanon’s aid. On August 9, 2020, a United Nations-backed virtual conference with participants from Britain, Qatar, the U.S., the E.U., China and the World Bank pledged nearly $300 million in assistance to Lebanon. Here are three nonprofits in Lebanon that are providing aid to those in great need.

3 Nonprofits in Lebanon Providing Assistance

  1. Embrace Lebanon: Embrace Lebanon is an NGO that raises awareness of mental health and challenges the negative stigma surrounding mental health advocacy in Lebanon. The organization established Lebanon’s first National Emotional Support and Suicide Prevention Helpline. This helpline organizes campaigns and collects donations to help improve life for the citizens of Lebanon. Last November, after a period of social and economic instability, the helpline number around the country, at a record rate. Embrace Lebanon received an average of 150 calls per day, as opposed to the previous average of seven calls per day. After such a horrific event colored by death, displacement and loss — mental health support will remain an important service in Lebanon.
  2. Beit El Baraka: Beit El Baraka aims to uplift the citizens of Lebanon by providing low-cost housing, a free supermarket and affordable medical attention to the retired community. The explosions that rocked the city of Beirut left homes uninhabitable — displacing more than 300,000 people and making housing an extreme necessity. In response to the crisis, Beit El Baraka is distributing boxed lunches to people in need and pledges on social media to immediately begin repairing houses. Since its establishment in 2018, Beit El Baraka has refurbished 55 homes, paid 349 bills and given medical attention to 356 patients.
  3. Impact Lebanon: Impact Lebanon is a disaster relief organization with a mission to pursue helpful initiatives in the most efficient way possible. After the explosions, the group launched a fundraiser to assist victims. Impressively, the organization reached its first fundraising goal within minutes. A statement regarding the explosion detailed Impact Lebanon’s commitment to transparency and anti-corruption, as well as outlining how the money would be allocated to different NGOs’ fights to provide relief to those most in need.

Grateful for Hope

After the disastrous explosion, hope has become a scarce commodity. Although seemingly unattainable, support from around the world and aid from nonprofits in Lebanon are making hope much more accessible, one initiative at a time.

Rebecca Blanke
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

the Marist Brothers
Saint Marcellin Champagnat formed the Institute of the Marist Brothers in 1817 with the mission of helping poor and marginalized children around the world. The community of Marist Brothers has now grown to include almost 3,000 members. In 2007, in the spirit of Champagnat’s vision, the Congregation of the Marist Brothers of the Schools established the Marist International Solidarity Foundation (FMSI) in Rome. Its mission is to provide quality care and education for all children. Today, the foundation directly improves the lives of more than 650,000 youth around the world. It does so through its presence in educational, social and youth centers. Three of FMSI’s important mission projects are in Ghana, Haiti and Lebanon.

Ghana: Marist Junior High School

With a fast-growing youth population, experts claim that Ghana has a unique opportunity to utilize its “demographic dividend” as a positive force for its society and economy. Without a strong educational system, however, the growing demographic could exacerbate the country’s poverty. Problems in the Ghanaian educational system, especially in rural settings, include shortages of qualified teachers, adequate teaching spaces and school materials. Additionally, literacy and learning standards are low. Educational institutions struggle to provide quality, inclusive teaching across gender and socioeconomic disparities. Thousands of children drop out of school because their families cannot afford the economic burden.

Fortunately, the Marist Brothers have been quietly contributing to the betterment of Ghanaian education. In 1998, the Marist Junior High School emerged in Sabin-Akrofrom. In this rural area, families cannot afford the transportation costs to send their children to city schools. Since its establishment, the Marist Junior High School has taught more than a thousand students who would have not received schooling otherwise. Its students meet high academic standards, and the facility is now prominent for its effective, inclusive and quality education for children living in remote areas of Ghana.

Haiti: the Collège Alexandre Dumas

In Haiti, thousands of children do not receive an adequate education because families cannot afford to make such financial sacrifices. Because of this, child labor is widespread in Haiti. As of 2019, more than 34% of children between the age of five and 14 were in the labor force. Child labor drastically reduces children’s opportunities to go to school. The government is unable to enforce a minimum age requirement for its workers or prohibit the use of children for dangerous work. Children left at orphanages also often work in hard domestic work.

The Marist Brothers have taken action to advocate for child rights and reduce child labor in the region of Latiboliere. The mission of the Collège Alexandre Dumas secondary school is to improve the lives of children who are vulnerable to exploitation. After successful negotiations with children’s families, the Marist Brothers are now able to host 100 boys and girls per year. In addition to providing basic schooling, this program offers nutritional meals, medical care, and recreational activities like sports and arts. These activities contribute to the Haitian children’s academic, emotional and social advancements. Overall, the school reduces the labor exploitation of minors by educating their families on the importance of schooling.

Lebanon: the Fratelli Project

Lebanon also faces the issue of widespread child labor, which impedes youth access to school. Immigrant children, whose parents experience exclusion from the Lebanese labor market, are especially vulnerable to labor trafficking. They can receive less pay and employers do not require identification papers. However, Lebanese families living in the poorest areas of the country face similar problems to those of immigrant families. Thus, Lebanese child labor is also on the rise. This cycle forces children to become the only source of income for many poor families who cannot afford to lose their support by sending them to school. Consequently, even the children enrolled in an educational institution have poor levels of attendance when due to seasonal labor.

The Marist Brothers’ school, Les Frères, has been helping children in Lebanon since before the Lebanese civil war. Now, in cooperation with the La Salle Brothers, the Marist brothers in Lebanon have introduced a new educational project called Fratelli. The Fratelli project supports hundreds of Lebanese and refugee children who have fallen behind in school. It incorporates socio-academic and vocational training to help them reintegrate into the Lebanese education system. FMSI provides funds to buy school materials, pay activity costs and finance the enlargement of buildings to make Les Frères accessible to more children.

Ghana, Haiti, and Lebanon are just three of the 81 countries around the world where the Marist Brothers have improved children’s lives. By protecting the world’s children, the Marist Brothers are effectively protecting the world’s future.

– Margherita Bassi
Photo: Flickr