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Action in Lebanon
When people think of poverty in the Middle East, they may not always picture Lebanon. The country Lebanon is a small yet very ethnically diverse nation in the Middle East. Sunni and Shia Muslims, Maronite Christians and other groups populate it. Ethnic divisions and sectarian power struggles led to a civil war that lasted 15 years. While the war was ultimately ended and a new republic formed, divisions remain. Now, positive action in Lebanon is essential for the nation, region and the global community’s well-being.

Lebanon in the 21st Century

Political divisions deepened when on Feb. 14, 2005, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri, died in a car bombing assassination. Two movements formed in the wake of this tragedy. One was the March 8th Alliance, led by current President Michel Aoun and supported by Hezbollah. The other was the March 14th Alliance led by Rafic’s son Saad Hariri. Each side receives backing from different, foreign nations. Moreover, the current political struggle reflects a greater proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A new government formed in 2016 and power has since been shared between the factions of Hariri and Aoun. While this has led to a more peaceful nation, it has also caused political paralysis — choking the economy. The government has also been plagued with corruption. In this same vein, protests in 2019 led to the resignation of Saad Hariri as prime minister and the formation of an anti-corruption panel.

Despite this, the country continues to suffer from a government stagnated by political divisions and corruption. Despite Lebanon’s status as one of the Middle East’s wealthier countries, its people do not benefit from that wealth. Almost 50% of the country’s population now lives below the poverty line. Furthermore, with the spread of COVID-19, the country’s economic crisis will only worsen.

Why People Should Act

A recent explosion in Beirut (Lebanon’s capital) is just the latest crisis in a country beset with political and economic strife. Many countries in Europe have already pledged aid to the people of Lebanon. It is imperative that the U.S. also take action in Lebanon. Not only does the U.S. have an obligation to help people in need, but also keeping Lebanon from further destabilizing will be essential in ensuring a more peaceful Middle East. If Lebanon’s government collapses, then the country could have a repeat of the civil war with different militant groups emerging and vying for control. Poverty would increase, many Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the country would become displaced. Tragically, more deaths would result from sectarian violence.

However, if the U.S. takes action in Lebanon, the U.S. itself benefits as well. By helping Syrian refugees in the country, Americans would be able to prevent the influx of refugees in the U.S. Lebanon is also a strong importer of U.S. goods. Rescuing its economy from collapse would advance U.S. trade policy and generate more prosperity for both nations.

Who is Helping?

There are currently many groups helping by taking action in Lebanon, right now. One such group is the nongovernmental organization, Humanity and Inclusion. It has been working to better the lives of people all over the world with disabilities as well as economic vulnerabilities. When it began in 1982, its goal was victim assistance, but it has also become responsible for preventing injuries through weapon and landmine clearance, risk education activities and much more. Since 1992, it has been working in Lebanon, engaging in helpful practices such as post-surgical physical therapy and psychological first aid. Its work is very impactful, lasting throughout the decades. In 1997, it received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work to ban landmines. In 2019, it reached more than 2 million people in 63 different countries.

Other great ways to get involved include staying informed and educating others about Lebanon. It is never too late to make a difference.

Isaac Boorstin
Photo: USAID

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

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