The Latest News from Syria Relief

By Charles Lawley, Head of Advocacy and PR

At the end of my first full day on this deployment to Lebanon, I’ve noticed something interesting – a  lot of people are messaging because they are worried about me. And it’s taken me a while to realise why they’re doing this now and not the many others times I’ve visited here – it’s the country I’ve visited the most outside of the UK and this is the first time that people have expressed such concern, despite every time I’m been here there has been some national crisis met with civil unrest.

For example, the last time I was deployed here was in January and, like tonight, Beirut was empty of an evening because of protests over the escalating banking crisis. Now, don’t misunderstand me, this is a crisis that all of my Lebanese friends agree is the worst of their lifetime, as my colleague and friend said “even during the war we could get money out.” But this tragic explosion has, for the first time, brought the problems that have troubled Lebanon for years to the international attention. As the media and the political agenda has largely ignored Lebanon, people could be forgiven for thinking protests and anger are new.  

This explosion hasn’t caused protests – it has intensified them. People were on the streets before Tuesday. Many people here feel that the explosion wasn’t the root cause of new problems, but a symptom of long-standing problems. The protests are bigger, the traffic is heavier, there are more power cuts and more people are struggling to cope in this economy. But, before Tuesday, there was already protests, there was already traffic, there was daily power outages and a protracted economic crisis.

I think, now everyone outside of Lebanon is paying attention, we need to see it through. We need to keep watching. However, it is tragic that it took an explosion that ripped through the heart of this country causing $80billion in damage and 200 people to lose their lives for the world to begin to sit up and take notice.

Tomorrow we are going door-to-door providing hundreds of food and hygiene packs to the people impacted by last week’s explosion. Despite the banking problems, we are able to turn UK donations into humanitarian aid in a matter of hours – the need here is still huge, 300,000 people are homeless. We desperately need more donations to help provide these packs, therapy for people traumatised by the blast and to rehabilitate homes. People who want to donate can go to https://syriarelief.org.uk/appeals/lebanon-emergency-response/

Another stark contrast is, whilst we are all wearing masks and observing social distancing and Lebanon has recorded the highest daily amount of COVID-19 cases this week, the Coronarvius is very much now not people’s prime concerns. Once you normalise the mask wearing, you could forget all about it, such is the enormity of the situation here.

The devastation here is beyond belief. Entire buildings mangled. Cars crushed. The impact spreading for miles. And this, according my colleagues, could have been so much worse – it is through 80% of the blast went into the seat, 10% went into the blast-proof silo next to ground zero, that you see, part-demolished, in all of the news images and that the damage we see in Lebanon is only from 10% of the blast. If this had happened further inland, the devastation could have been so much worse.

But, through it all, the characteristic stoicism of the Lebanese people shines through. The people of this beautiful country who have lived through many crises are, when faced with the fallout of the explosion, an economic crisis, rising COVID-19 cases and the fall of the government, keeping calm and carrying on. They are picking up a broom, sweeping the streets and trying to get back to something resembling normality.  

 

 

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