The humanitarian impact of the Beirut explosion
Recovery from the Beirut explosion will be daunting as Lebanon is already facing an economic crisis, an influx of refugees, and a new spike in COVID-19 cases.
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Imagine that a conflict has forced you and your family from your home and into a foreign country. What is the first thing you do? You try to find safe shelter. Concern and ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department, are working together to ensure that Syrian families in Lebanon have a space where they can live in safety and with dignity.
Lebanon has welcomed a staggering 1.5 million Syrian refugees since the onset of the crisis, swelling the country’s population by 25% in just five years. In a country of just under 10,500 km2 – eight times smaller than Ireland – providing suitable accommodation has become a major challenge.
Dramatic surges in demand have increased rental prices, meaning that many Syrian families are no longer able to secure decent accommodation. They are taking whatever they can get, often forced to live in poor conditions and frequently in spaces that were never meant to be inhabited, or buildings that were never completed. An estimated 38% of refugees in northern Lebanon are now living in overcrowded or substandard conditions which lack basic services. Many are simply not equipped for the heat of Lebanon’s summer or the freezing temperatures of the winter months. The health risks, danger and indignity of these living situations are inevitably compounding the already stressful life of a refugee.
With funding from the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department, ECHO, our team in Lebanon is helping to improve living conditions for these Syrian families. This means adapting and rehabilitating substandard buildings so that they meet a family’s most basic needs. These works include repairing walls, roofs and windows, installing water storage, toilets, handwashing and hygiene facilities and septic tanks, and connecting buildings to sewerage networks. In 2016 alone, Concern and ECHO helped improve the basic living conditions for almost 4,000 Syrian refugees.
These very practical interventions have made a huge difference to lives of Hamza*, Khadija* and their families.
Omar’s family fled Syria for Lebanon after he lost his leg in a landmine explosion. At first, they found a house to live in but were soon evicted when they couldn’t pay the rent. Their only option then was a shell of a house – essentially a set of walls with no roof, windows or doors. Omar, a former farmer, made a makeshift roof overhead and placed an old wooden door across the entrance to prevent wild animals from entering, but the family never felt safe. He tells us:
We were afraid before. When it was stormy, we used to stand with our children outside to avoid the roof from falling on top of our heads … The children couldn’t use toilet at night, we were very afraid."
The Concern team worked with Omar to make his new home safe and secure and provide basic hygiene facilities for the family. Life remains tough – Omar can’t stand up as his second leg is injured and feeding the family is a constant struggle – however, thankfully, they don’t fear for their safety each night. Omar says:
When Concern came to us, our situation changed and we started to feel safe."
Khadija – a young mother of three – and her extended family had been forced to find shelter in a cramped stable. Khadija, whose education was cut short when the war broke out, tells us:
The house was a stable for animals. When we came here, we all slept in the same room – my husband Khaled and I, and my brothers-in-law. I didn’t like it all.
With the support of ECHO, the Concern team rehabilitated the structure to make it suitable for the family to live in. Crucially for Khadija, they separated it into two rooms so she could have some privacy. She continues: "The separate rooms made my dream come true – imagine, I have a room of my own … The Concern team was very friendly and helpful, and they made me feel safe."
Education remains at the forefront of Khadija’s mind – in our conversations with her, she kept returning to the topic.
I had a dream to become a lawyer and I wanted to learn to sew … I will do my best to ensure my daughter is educated in order for her not to suffer like me."
From interrupted education and psychological trauma to a lack of adequate shelter, the challenges facing Syrian families in Lebanon are complex and diverse. Concern and ECHO are working together to help ensure that these vulnerable communities, who have already lived through so much, can at least live in dignified and safe conditions.
*Names changed for security purposes.