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BEIRUT: One month since the blast and thousands are unable to rebuild their homes, warn Oxfam

One month since the blast and thousands can’t afford a front door

One month since the massive blast in Beirut, tens of thousands of vulnerable people are unable to rebuild their homes, with a single front door costing two months’ worth of a minimum-wage salary, warned Oxfam today.   

Longstanding inequality, massive inflation and COVID-19 have compounded this humanitarian disaster for tens of thousands of people, making it almost impossible for them to recover.  

Bachir Ayoub, Oxfam’s Policy Lead in Lebanon said: “Huge inflation has meant the cost of basic materials needed to rebuild homes and businesses is out of reach for thousands of people who were already struggling to get by before the blast. With a minimum wage of just under $450 a month, the cost of replacing one window is now nearly $500 and a door up to $1000. These families need urgent assistance to recover from this disaster and rebuild their lives.” 

The blast came at time when thousands of people where already on the brink. An estimated 50 percent of the population was living under the poverty line, the Lira’s value had dropped 80 percent since October, migrant workers were being abandoned and forced out on the streets, cash was almost impossible to access, and restrictive measures to contain the pandemic prevented casual workers from getting to their jobs.  

Ayoub continued: “Following the blast, an estimated 70,000 additional workers are now jobless and half of all wholesale, retail and hospitality establishments near the blast site have been destroyed.  

“In the most affected areas, the majority of people are low and middle- income workers who earn the minimum wage or less. Most of them have lost their jobs in the port or the businesses in the devastated areas. Many people are struggling to put food on the table, let alone repair their houses.” 

Oxfam is working with Lebanese organisations to ensure that Beirut’s most marginalised people are not left behind and instead have the support they need to recover from the blast - but there is still so much that needs to be done for Beirut to begin to recover.  

Celine El Kik, a social worker from Oxfam partner KAFA says the mental scars of the blast will linger long after the physical damage has been repaired: “The port explosion affected all of us, but especially women who were already vulnerable. We're providing social and legal support, as well as cash assistance for people who lost their jobs or their houses.”  

Oxfam calls for fair and just distribution of aid to provide critical support to vulnerable communities and people who will be unable to rebuild their lives without targeted and transparent aid 

Ayoub concluded: “We are worried that the growing inequality and suffering we were already seeing in some of Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities – like refugees and migrant workers, the elderly and LGBTQ+ community – will only get worse in the coming months as winter sets in.” 

END

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869

Notes to the editor:

  • The Minimum wage in Lebanon is set by the Government at 675,000 LBP which was equivalent to $450 this time last year 
  • One-meter square of average quality (6mm) glass cost 16$ before the explosion. After August 4th, and with the increasing prices in the market, the Ministry of Economy specified the prices of one-meter square of glass with an aluminum frame at $500 
  • The average market price of a door with quality locks is currently 700-1000 USD 
  • To respond to the impact of the blast Oxfam is working with 11 partners to deliver emergency support including distribution of food parcels and the provision of emergency and temporary cash assistance, household rehabilitation, legal assistance and consultation, psycho-social support and medication. The services are provided to families and individuals in the affected areas including women, girls, LGBTQ+ community members, people with disabilities and migrant workers. 
  • Oxfams partners under the Beirut Response are Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH), KAFA, Anti-Racism Movement (ARM), Basmeh and Zeitooneh (B&Z), Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU), Lebanese observatory for workers and employees rights (LOWER), HELEM, Legal Agenda (LA), Mada Association, Arc En Ciel and People’s Solidarity, hosted by a partner organization called Social Media Exchange (SMEXs) 
  • Since March 2020, Oxfam in Lebanon has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic to address the needs of vulnerable communities in the Bekaa Valley. Along with local partners, Oxfam continues to distribute water, soap and disinfection kits to refugees in the informal tented settlements. 
  • Oxfam in Lebanon works on active citizenship and good governance, economic justice and humanitarian programmes. 
  • Oxfam has been working in Lebanon since 1993 providing humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people affected by conflict, and promoting economic development, good governance at a local and national level, and women’s rights through work with local partners. Oxfam also works with local partners to contribute to the protection and empowerment of marginalized women and men.  
  • Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world: 1 out of every 4 people. In response to the Syria crisis, Oxfam has been providing water and sanitation, and emergency cash assistance for refugees and poor Lebanese, helping refugees with legal protection issues, and supporting small businesses and private-sector job creation. Oxfam is currently working in North Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, South Lebanon, and in Palestinian camps and gatherings.
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BEIRUT: One month since the blast and thousands can’t afford a front door

On August 6, 2020 communities, young and old, started sweeping the streets, and cleaning up the wreckage caused by the explosion in Beirut.

By Sahar Elbachir, Senior Media and Communications Officer, and Bachir Ayoub, Policy Lead - Oxfam in Lebanon

One month since the massive explosion in Beirut, tens of thousands of vulnerable people are unable to rebuild their homes — with a front door costing two months’ minimum-wage salary.

Longstanding inequality, massive inflation and COVID-19 have compounded this humanitarian disaster for tens of thousands, making it almost impossible for them to recover.

Huge inflation has meant the cost of basic materials needed to rebuild homes and businesses is out of reach for thousands of people who were already struggling to get by before the explosion sent shockwaves through the city. While the minimum wage is just under €380 a month, the cost of replacing one window is now nearly €420 and a door is up to €845.

The blast came at a time when thousands of people were already on the brink. An estimated 50 percent of the population was living under the poverty line, the Lira’s value had dropped 80 percent since October, migrant workers were being abandoned and forced out on the streets, cash was almost impossible to access, and restrictive measures to contain the pandemic prevented casual workers from getting to their jobs.

Following the blast, approximately 70,000 additional workers are now jobless and half of all wholesale, retail and hospitality establishments near the blast site have been destroyed.

In the most affected areas, the majority of people are low- and middle-income workers who earn the minimum wage or less. Most of them have lost their jobs in the port or businesses in the devastated areas and many people are struggling to put food on the table.

A team of volunteers with Oxfam partner, Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH), visit the neighbourhood of Geitawi to assess the psychosocial support needed for people affected by the explosion.

Oxfam’s Response

Oxfam is working with Lebanese organisations to ensure that Beirut’s most marginalised people are not left behind and instead have the support they need to recover from the explosion.

Oxfam’s joint response with partners will focus on supporting local leadership, and will prioritise reaching people with disabilities, the elderly, women and girls, migrant workers, refugees (Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world – one out of every four people) and the LGBTQ+ community.

Oxfam’s partner-led response is providing over 9,000 people with support including distribution of food parcels and the provision of emergency and temporary cash assistance, legal assistance and consultation, psycho-social support and medication, and help to repair and rebuild their homes and businesses.

Celine, 37, a social worker & support centre supervisor working with Oxfam Partner Kafa KAFA, is photographed by boxes of food packed by staff and volunteers, that will be distributed to help vulnerable families.

Trauma

But there is still so much that needs to be done for Beirut to begin to recover. Celine El Kik, a social worker from Oxfam partner KAFA, says the mental scars of the blast will linger long after the physical damage has been repaired.

“The port explosion affected all of us, but especially women who were already vulnerable. We're providing social and legal support, as well as cash assistance for people who lost their jobs or their houses.”

Hanaa uses plastic to cover her windows which were shattered in the explosion.

Hanaa, her two daughters and her son, have been living in her small house in Karantina – one of the neighborhoods closest to the port – for decades. The family was inside their house when the blast went off.

“We were standing in the house,” Hanaa explains from her home. “At first they said it was fireworks. The first explosion went off, and the kids started screaming. I told them it was only the fireworks factory. And then the huge blast went off, it threw my kids and me across the room.”

Hanaa’s house was cracked, pieces of actual concrete fell off, and the windows exploded, sending glass raining across the room.

“Everything was full of smoke, it was indescribable,” Hanaa recounts.

Dina, Hanaa’s second daughter, was mildly injured during the explosion. Although she has almost completely recovered, the invisible scars the blast left aren’t about to disappear. For Hanaa’s youngest son, every loud noise is a reminder of the blast.

“Until now, he doesn’t sleep at night, he asks me to talk to him all throughout the night,” says Hanaa.

Although her family is safe and suffered only minor injuries, Hanaa still fears that her home is unsafe – that it now barely stands on its own.

“We still are afraid that the wall might collapse on us.”

For now, the family uses plastic to cover the windows or pieces of wood to create a makeshift door, but they fear that once winter, with its cold weather and harsh rains sets in, they might not even have a house anymore.

Staff and volunteers at Oxfam partner KAFA pack boxes of food that will be distributed to help vulnerable families affected by the explosion, which killed over 180 people, injured more than 6,500 and displaced some 300,000 residents.

Oxfam is calling for fair and just distribution of aid to provide critical support to vulnerable communities and people who will be unable to rebuild their lives without targeted and transparent aid.

Our worry is that the growing inequality and suffering we were already seeing in some of Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities – like refugees and migrant workers, the elderly and LGBTQ+ community – will only get worse, and they will fall even farther behind.

These communities need urgent assistance to recover from this disaster and rebuild their lives.

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First confirmed case of COVID-19 reported in Moria refugee camp Lesbos, Greece

Oxfam Ireland call on Irish government to honour commitment on unaccompanied minors as COVID-19 hits Moria refugee camp

  • Urgent EU action needed to prevent catastrophic spread of COVID-19 in Moria refugee camp, say Oxfam and GCR

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “The arrival of COVID-19 in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camp of Moria is a disaster for the people who are stranded there. ‘Social distancing’ and recommended hygiene practices to reduce risk are impossible – there are nearly 12,000 people trapped in a camp build for less than 3000 people. There are not enough toilets, showers, or access to water. Without immediate and drastic intervention, this will turn into a devastating health crisis that could cause the deaths of hundreds of already weakened people.

“Ireland is one of 12 EU member states who pledged to relocate unaccompanied children trapped on the Greek islands and we welcome this commitment. The Irish government pledged to relocate 36 children and to date have relocated eight. With the news of COVID-19 reaching Moria, we urge the Irish government to continue to honour their commitment as a matter of urgency and bring the remaining children to safety as soon as possible. ”

Natalia-Rafaella Kafkoutsou, refugee law expert at the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), said: “Nearly six months into the pandemic, the emergency plan designed by Greece is still far from sufficient to properly protect people seeking asylum, staff in the refugee camps, and the wider population on the Greek islands. It almost exclusively focuses on restricting the movement of people, rather than adequate prevention and response.

“Instead of protecting people, Greek authorities have fined health clinics in the camp and closed down necessary accommodation sites on the mainland.

“To save lives, authorities should not wait for a mass outbreak of the coronavirus to rescue people seeking asylum from the overcrowded island camps. Instead, everyone in of Moria should be tested for the coronavirus, and positive cases should be isolated immediately in proper facilities. The Greek government and its EU partners need to take immediate action and transfer everyone out of the ‘hotspot’ to suitable accommodation on the Greek mainland and in other EU member states."

ENDS

Contact 

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869 

Notes to editors:

  • Spokespeople are available for interviews in English, Greek and Dutch.
  • A Somalian 40-year old man, a recognised refugee, is the first case of COVID-19 in the EU ‘hotspot’ camp of Moria. He was feeling unwell yesterday evening and was transferred by ambulance to the local hospital, where he tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • The Greek government has developed a 3-step emergency plan for its refugee camps. Step 1 – already activated for all Greek island camps – is to isolate the camp and restrict movement. Once the first cases are confirmed, step 2 is to quarantine the camp, ban NGOs from entering and set up ‘health stations’ for up to 30 people; this step has been activated in several other refugee camps so far. The final step, in the event of a massive outbreak, entails separating people who are infected from those who are not. The plan is largely reactive rather than preventive. Also, many details on how exactly it will be implemented are left unclear: where will people brought in case of an evacuation, how will this happen and who will carry out the evacuation?
  • At the end of August, in Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, close to 12,000 people – nearly half of them children (40%) – were crammed into a space built for fewer than 3,000 people. There are up to 160 people using the same dirty toilet and over 500 people per every shower. In some parts of the camp, 325 people share one tap and there is no soap. 15 to 20 people can live in a single shipping container, or in tents or makeshift shelters.
  • Earlier this year, several EU member states including Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal agreed to relocate a total of 1,600 unaccompanied children from the Aegean refugee camps. Since the beginning of this initiative, 229 children have been relocated to six EU countries, most recently to France and Finland, but months after the pledge by member states, hundreds of children are still waiting in the camps.
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Hospitals and Palestinians in Gaza brace for Coronavirus surge

  • Gaza hospitals brace for surging COVID-19 cases amidst bombing, and severe electricity shortages, warns Oxfam

Entry of fuel to Gaza has been restricted by Israel, forcing their single electricity plant to shut down, compounding the risk of infection for two million Palestinians, Oxfam warned today. Currently, people in Gaza have only three to four hours of electricity per day.

At the same time, the blockaded strip, now under complete lockdown, is experiencing continuous bombardment from Israeli forces and likely to see an exponential increase in virus transmission.

Shane Stevenson, Oxfam’s Country Director in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel said: “The gravity of the pandemic finally making its way into communities in Gaza cannot be underestimated. There are only 97 intensive care unit beds and ventilators in Gaza. The lack of fuel for back-up generators means hospitals aren’t able to effectively operate intensive care units and properly treat COVID-19 and other patients."

The first cases of COVID-19 outside of quarantine centres were announced earlier this week. Overcrowding in the sealed off coastal enclave, where 5,000 people live per square kilometre, makes physical distancing impossible and rapid transmission a certainty. This puts more people at risk, especially those with pre-existing conditions.

“People’s access to clean water has already dropped from about 80 litres to 20 litres a day. This will directly affect people’s ability to protect themselves from the virus. If no more fuel is allowed in, and with the power plant no longer operating, the supply of drinking water through desalination plants could be reduced by 80 percent - forcing people to choose between hygiene and food,” added Stevenson.

The lockdown is pushing more of Gaza’s already extremely vulnerable families into poverty. Families are running out of food, and with the electricity shortages, they can no longer store in refrigerators. With power cuts, private water vendors are also overwhelmed with demand at a time when hygiene is crucial to keep people from contracting the virus.

Oxfam is already responding to the pandemic in Gaza and assessing new needs. Their teams are providing clean water and sanitation to 270,000 people, as well as food-vouchers to help families have enough to eat. The lockdown has suspended some activities, putting more lives at risk.

Stevenson concluded: “Israeli authorities must allow fuel into Gaza so its sole electricity plant can power hospitals again so they can treat patients, and for families to access clean water to slow the spread of the virus."

ENDS

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Notes to the editor

As of Thursday 27th August, there were 40 confirmed cased of COVID-19 outside of quarantine centres in Gaza, including in the densely populated Maghazi refugee camp.

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