OPINION: Ways to help Lebanon six months after the Beirut blast

by Julia Sánchez | ActionAid
Thursday, 4 February 2021 13:22 GMT

Vehicles drive near the site of the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut port, in Beirut, Lebanon December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

It is time to give power to women, young people and their organisations so they can rebuild their communities in a progressive and equal way

By Julia Sánchez, Secretary General of ActionAid International. Julia Sánchez is a development practitioner, feminist and environmentalist who has been promoting equity and sustainable development for over 25 years

“In addition to the horror of our injuries, our house was completely destroyed. The help we received was insufficient and arrived late. We are still waiting for what we were promised.”

On the morning of August 4th, 2020 Katia, 46, was at her family home with her four children only 500 metres away from the epicentre of the Beirut port blast.

“We lost almost everything, even the clothes in our closets were torn to pieces and all our belongings were destroyed. A small local organisation helped us fix the broken doors and restore the windows, but there is a lot of work left to be done and we can’t afford to fix it all ourselves.”

The assistance Katia and her family received from the Lebanese Government and international agencies was slow-to-arrive and covered less than 20% of the damage the explosion caused to her property and belongings. This delayed Katia and her family from moving back into their home and restarting life again.

We know that local organisations, frontline workers, and volunteers struggled to coordinate their efforts with the government and international agencies following the devastating blast in the Beirut port. Local people and civil society spearheaded much of the response on the ground through spontaneous action.

Lebanon has been confronted with several crisis all at once: the Covid-19 pandemic, political upheaval, the Beirut port explosion, chemical hazards, economic meltdown, and discrimination against migrants and refugees.

Instead of joining forces and having a unified approach to this multi-layered crisis, the response of the international community has been, at best, haphazard.

Decision-making spaces are often challenging to access for grassroots organisations working with women, young people, LGBT+ people, Syrian and Palestinian refugees, migrant workers, and other marginalised populations.

Women, young people, and their organisations should be at the forefront of relief responses. It is only through distributing power to local communities and networks that we can shift power into the hands of those who know the situation on the ground best and are closest to the needs of crisis and disaster affected people.

By prioritising the rights of women at a time when their rights are most violated, and women can be at their most vulnerable, the power balance gradually shifts. This approach must be a crucial component of the United Nations Beirut explosion flash appeal, only 10% of which is being channelled towards the protecting women, children and the most vulnerable.

My charity, ActionAid, is working closely with partner organisations on the ground in Beirut to achieve gender equality and protection from gender-based violence.

Each organisation possesses in-depth knowledge of local communities, allowing them to be nimble in their response to the blast and place the most vulnerable at the centre of their work.

It’s from the people on the ground we can learn the most.

Take Maya Abdo Al-Ahad. The 25-year-old was traumatised by the blast. She lost family members and friends and her home and business were destroyed.

Maya received counselling on psychological first-aid in a crisis from youth organisation, The Dawer Foundation. The sessions not only helped Maya deal with post traumatic stress herself  but enabled her to support others close to her.

“After psychological first aid training, I became attentive to individuals who may need support, listening and comforting them, helping them understand their concerns, addressing their basic needs, and linking them to information or services” Maya told us.

When local women and young people lead humanitarian responses to crisis, the voices of the most vulnerable are heard, the response is timely and the rights of women and young people are prioritised. If we do this, we can look to not only rebuild the lives of people in Lebanon but help address underlying inequalities and injustice.