On August 4, 2020, the port of Beirut - Lebanon's main economic hub - was the scene of a mysterious, apocalyptic double explosion caused by the storage, in questionable conditions, of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in one of the port's warehouses for nearly six years. This tragedy claimed over 200 lives, injured 6,000 and left thousands of families homeless and totally devastated entire districts of old Beirut. The material losses have been estimated at $1.7 billion by the World Bank, the UN and the European Union.
Immediately after the disaster, true to the long-standing privileged relations that have bound it to Lebanon for centuries, France mobilized to help the population. Emmanuel Macron flew to Beirut 48 hours after the explosion and, during a second visit on September 1, the President of the Republic launched a political initiative to help end the crisis.
It was in this context of general mobilization that Agence française de développement (AFD) quickly stepped up to the plate to respond to this crisis with the help of its partners, in particular local NGOs.
AFD's aim was to contribute to the reconstruction or rehabilitation of damaged homes, businesses and institutions and also to provide support to disadvantaged people to help them overcome the economic, humanitarian and psychosocial consequences of the disaster.
Arthur Germond, AFD's Director in Lebanon, points out that almost half of the volume of aid provided by Agence française de développement has gone to health, alongside other vital sectors: "The explosion revealed the huge needs in different areas," notes Mr Germond, while underlining the key role of AFD's various local partners, particularly their essential expertise in identifying the most urgent needs.
Given the scale of the disaster, AFD implemented a two-stage action plan:
AFD mobilized the day after the explosion to provide an immediate response via partners already in the country. €5 million were reallocated from ongoing projects to immediate actions to deal with the consequences of the disaster.
This emergency aid was used to participate in ICRC support to the Rafic Hariri Hospital, provide assistance to the Lebanese Red Cross, contribute to the National Mental Health Program and provide assistance to four local NGOs in response to immediate health and livelihood needs.
Rehabilitation and development action
After the initial shock and the granting of this emergency aid, AFD mobilized an additional €20 million to support 11 new projects implemented by 25 associations or international NGOs and Lebanese civil society organizations.
In this way, AFD has financed rehabilitation and development actions that directly reach affected populations in four priority sectors defined by France: health and food security; rehabilitation (housing and recycling); support for the economy and civil society; education and vocational training.
At the same time, as part of the medium-term response to the consequences of the explosion, AFD has contributed to other complementary financing, in particular the co-financing in partnership with the Fondation de France (Operation Solidarity Lebanon) of several projects implemented by Lebanese and French NGOs; support for the work of French experts active in the World Bank's working groups on the reconstruction of the port of Beirut; the granting of aid to the Lebanon Funding Facility (LFF), set up by the World Bank to support the Lebanese in the country's socio-economic recovery in the wake of the explosion and to prepare for the rebuilding of the port as well as the rehabilitation of the devastated districts.
IMPACT AND ASSESSMENT
One year after the disaster, in terms of health and food security, 19,175 people have had access to primary health care and mental health care, while 3,447 people have benefited from the distribution of food baskets and direct material or financial assistance.
Regarding housing rehabilitation or recycling, 659 homes have been restored and 15,000 tonnes of debris collected and recycled.
In terms of economic support, 468 SMEs have benefited from AFD's action.
Regarding education and vocational training, 660 people have been trained and 29 schools have been rehabilitated.
In total, the number of beneficiaries of AFD's action is estimated at 35,587 people.
In greater detail, the aid granted by Agence française de développement made it possible to rehabilitate the Quarantine Hospital which was heavily damaged by the explosion due to its immediate proximity to the site of the tragedy.
“AFD's generous contribution was the cornerstone of the hospital's rehabilitation”, confirms UNICEF's communication officer, Blanche Baz, before noting that the hospital should be operational once again early 2022. It will then be able to receive 500,000 patients, including 150,000 children, from disadvantaged neighborhoods. The hospital will also be in a position to handle 2,000 emergency hospitalizations and 25,000 consultations for women and children per year.
Blanche Baz also notes that the start of the hospital's rehabilitation work has been somewhat delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and certain official procedures.
In the education and vocational training field, the European Institute for Cooperation and Development (IECD), with the help of its local partner Semeurs d'Avenir (SDA) and assistance from AFD, has rehabilitated four technical schools.
This joint action has also led to the creation of short-term technical training courses for 80 vulnerable young people (Lebanese and refugees) in specific fields required for reconstruction, such as "joinery, carpentry, traditional lime work and sewing", says Vianney Basse, director of the IECD in Lebanon. The apprenticeship model used is that of a "school-building site" model: “The young people are trained on the spot in a damaged house and thereby contribute directly to the renovation of the building”.
At the same time, the IECD has also organized coaching sessions with 40 micro-entrepreneurs and carried out rehabilitation work on some 20 micro-enterprises. This work was carried out by 50 young people trained by the Institute and its local partner, with the support of AFD and numerous local and international organizations, including Arcenciel, Stand for Women, Mada, Khaddit Beirut, Care International and Alfanar.
The European Institute for Cooperation and Development has also obtained the support of the Directorate General of Antiquities and the Directorate General of Technical and Vocational Education (DGETP). Vianney Basse adds that "375 computers have been distributed to teachers and students in eight partner technical schools”.
Support for micro-businesses has also been the focus of the work carried out by the Shift Social Innovation Hub with AFD's help. Iman Arja, Shift's Head of Communications, points out that the NGO is currently supporting 26 micro, small and medium sized enterprises affected by the explosion.
Special attention is being paid to women and young people, and grants of between $1,750 and $3,000 are being provided by Shift to these businesses in the form of equipment or materials. “Training in crisis management and coaching will also be provided by the NGO from September onwards”, says Iman Arja.
Meanwhile, the local NGO Arcenciel has embarked upon a completely different type of action: the collection and recycling of broken glass. The head of Arcenciel's external relations department, Jana Nasr, points out that the explosion on August 4 generated 15,000 tonnes of broken glass: “Faced with this huge health and environmental problem, Arcenciel launched its initiative for the recycling of this broken glass on August 5," says Jana Nasr. Discussions were immediately held with AFD on the possibility of financing the collection and recycling of this glass".
Eight months after the explosion, 1,650 square meters of glass had been collected in the Quarantine district, amounting to almost 15,000 tonnes, representing a very large proportion of the debris from the explosion. “It was not only a matter of collecting this debris, but also of guiding and helping the people or businesses affected by the explosion on how best to collect such huge quantities of glass from the ground," says Jana Nasr.
In many areas this wide-ranging action was further complicated by a series of problems inherent in the deterioration of living conditions at several levels: frequent power and internet cuts; the Covid-19 pandemic and long periods of lockdown; difficulties in obtaining fuel; importing materials and equipment made problematic by the sharp depreciation of the national currency; difficulties in coordinating the various NGOs, etc.
In this difficult context, the action carried out after the August 4, 2020 disaster has highlighted the sustained commitment of France and AFD alongside the Lebanese population. This strong action was made possible by the key role played by NGOs, local and international associations and the coordination of all these players on the ground