Recovery in Beirut will focus on the most vulnerable

Posted On September 11, 2020


August fourth is seared into the hearts of the Lebanese people.

It was the day when a huge explosion occurred in the port of Beirut. The pressure wave rolled out across the city taking with it the lives of more than 150 people, while causing injuries to 6,000 more. It was also the day when 300,000 of the city’s residents lost their homes.

Thirteen days after the blast, and Jihan, 45, has only one wish; “I want to go back to the day before the explosion.” She doesn’t ask for much, she explains. Her desire is a desperate call to substitute a “horrific tragedy” with a “harsh yet more bearable reality.”

“After this tragedy, we no longer have the strength to laugh,” she says.

Karantina has been Jinan’s safe haven for 24 years now; it is the place has she called home for so long.

Less than three kilometres from the port of Beirut, Karantina was one of the hardest-hit areas. However, the blast’s destruction is not solely responsible for Jihan’s misery today. She and her neighbours are among Lebanon’s most vulnerable.

UNDP met Jihan during a field visit initiated to understand the impact of the blast on Beirut’s most vulnerable. As a response to the Beirut port blast, UNDP developed a “leave no one behind” report intended to ensure guiding principles for a people-centric and inclusive recovery which can safeguard the rights of those who suffer most in times of crisis.

“With the focus on assessing damages and on the economic cost of the recovery, we should not forget that the August fourth explosion was above all a human tragedy. Whether mourning their loved ones, caring for their wounds, having lost a home or a livelihood, too many women, men and children are at risk of being left behind by the recovery process. UNDP is seeking to ensure people’s voices are heard and their rights are safeguarded,” says Nino Karamaoun, UNDP’s Chief Technical Advisor on Rule of Law and Human Rights.

Jihan’s house was destroyed, and she has little hope of restoring the damage due to her dire financial constraints. “My son was injured. My neighbour is still in the ICU, and a three-year-old girl in the neighborhood lost her face. People here are devastated, no one was spared material losses or injuries,” she says.

Despite being widowed at a young age, Jihan has four children on her own. With no income, she wonders what the future holds to her and her “orphan children” as she refers to them.

Her house lost half of its roof. “Everything is destroyed. Many people told me the building might collapse, but I’m staying. What other options do I have?”

According to the report’s findings, People like Jihan are among those who are most likely to find a harder time to recover from the blast’s impact. The assessment identifies groups that are more prone to remain vulnerable; women and girls, the elderly, refugee and migrant workers, and young people. The report suggests a series of guiding principles that can help ensure an inclusive and just recovery. Such principles emphasize the need to adopt a human-centred and data-driven process instead of one that is building-centered and reconstruction-based. It also highlights the need to ensure a participatory approach to recovery, one that guarantees the voices of all groups are heard and that the specific needs of each are responded to.

Just a seven-minute walk away from Jihan’s neighbourhood in Gemmayze, sits Toufic, 75, a shop owner. “This blast blew up sixty years of hard work. It took away a business that was once my source of pride and the source of income for more than two families.”

Toufic never thought the day would come where he’d see the end of six decades of business. “Look at the floor. On each tile, there is an invisible drop of my sweat and my blood that I gave in developing this place,” he says while tears fill his eyes.  Just like any other business owner, Toufic is afraid he might not be able to recoup his losses.

Around 10,000 businesses have been destroyed, leaving more than 100,000 people without an income. UNDP is prioritizing the restoration of livelihoods and small businesses to support people like Toufic and his employees. Thousands of businesses are unable to resume without aid.

Today, the people of Lebanon are in the grip of multi-faceted challenges that include a devastating economic crisis, and which is further complicated by a persistent COVID-19 outbreak. “We have been here supporting the people of Lebanon in their efforts to recover from recurring crises for the past five decades,” says UNDP Lebanon Resident Representative, Celine Moyroud. “We are fully committed to supporting Lebanon on an inclusive path to recovery and development that leaves no one behind, and that is attentive to people’s calls for change, greater accountability, and transparency.”