#SaferTogether against COVID-19: a year of turmoil in Lebanon

European Commission
Apr 23 · 4 min read
Many buildings of the old Beirut were damaged by the port explosion of August 2020. ©Pascal Maitre/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

When a massive explosion tore through Beirut’s port in August 2020 it was the last straw for many people in Lebanon. The explosion killed hundreds, while it damaged thousands of homes in one of the country’s poorest communities. It left large areas of the city without water, sewage, or electricity, and disrupted Lebanon’s food supplies. It was a devastating blow in a year of turmoil.

January 2021. The port explosion devastated entire neighbourhoods of Beirut, leaving many homeless. Six months after the blast, its impact is still very much visible. ©Pascal Maitre/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Within days of the blast, through its Civil Protection Mechanism, the European Union sent hundreds of emergency personnel to Beirut. Teams of doctors and ambulance workers cared for the wounded, while engineers and construction teams worked to get utilities going, and get people back into their homes.

Mahmoud fled Syria with his wife when Turkish forces took control of the Kurdish town of Afrin, in Syria. They receive cash assistance funded by the EU that helps them survive. ©Pascal Maitre/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Salim Mailah, an elderly Lebanese man, and his daughter Josephine, are amongst the thousands of Beirut’s citizens whose lives have dramatically changed since August’s blast. Salim and Josephine share a house together near the port. Salim is 88 years old. He has difficulty breathing and Josephine, who is a widow, looks after him. Their house was badly damaged by the explosion, but they did not have the resources to repair it. Fortunately, thanks to EU assistance, they were able to get the repairs done and are now back home.

Salim, 88, has difficulty breathing. He was spotted by EU-partners and received help after the blast destroyed his home. ©Pascal Maitre/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Across Lebanon, recent compounded crises have hit vulnerable people of all nationalities and walks of life. Five months before the port blast, COVID-19 began to spread in the country. The pandemic arrived during a period of political crisis. Out-of-control inflation and currency volatility had been decimating people’s savings, leaving many unable to afford even the most basic essentials.

EU funding has helped lessen misery for some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

In 2020, the EU provided € 670.3 million crucial humanitarian aid to support the basic needs of Syrian refugees and Lebanese in vulnerable situations, including additional top-up efforts done during the year to directly respond to needs arising from the Beirut Port blast and COVID-19 relief. That figure includes €31.9 million devoted to multi-purpose cash assistance to address the needs of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in the country through its partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

This funding is part of more than €716 million in emergency humanitarian funding the EU has contributed to the refugee crisis in Lebanon since 2011.

These funds help Salim and Josephine stay safe. They also provide critical support for hundreds of thousands of refugees in the country. When Ramadan Mustafa Kalzi, a refugee from Aleppo, lost his job as a baker due to the pandemic, EU cash assistance allowed him and his wife to avoid eviction, and still provide food for their three children.

Mustafa and Ali lost one of their sons to the war. They fled Syria in hope for a better future for their family. ©Pascal Maitre/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.
350,000 Syrian refugees live in one of the many makeshift shelter camps of the Bekaa Valley. ©Pascal Maitre/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Today, Syrian refugees make up more than 20% of Lebanon’s population, the highest refugees-to-population ratio in the world. Already vulnerable, they are among those most affected by the pandemic and government restrictions. Many of them lost jobs, further undermining their ability to care for themselves and their families. Recent findings indicate at least nine out of 10 Syrian refugee families in Lebanon live in extreme poverty.

Saad Aisha Al Hassan, a widow and a refugee from Syria, has been in Lebanon for more than five years. She takes care of ten children on her own. Unable to go to school, the children used to bring in money working odd jobs on farms. The pandemic put an end to that. EU cash assistance helps mothers like Aisha pay the rent and keep her children safe, preventing even greater tragedy.

EU support has provided hundreds of thousands of refugees and Lebanese with safe shelter, access to clean water and sanitation, healthcare, education and protection. This support not only helps people survive, it offers something rare in desperate times: hope and dignity.

Aisha left Syria when her husband was found dead, and took shelter in Lebanon. ©Pascal Maitre/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

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