The Beirut Port explosions occurred in the early evening of 4 August 2020 as Lebanon was already grappling with the impact of a grave socio-economic as well as sanitary crisis. Following the explosions, and while Lebanese themselves, through private individuals and the civil society in Lebanon and via the diaspora started a massive support campaign, international humanitarian assistance was immediately offered. Within less than 24 hours, experts were deployed from the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), together with a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, disaster management experts and other emergency teams to support with urban search and rescue (USAR) operations and initial humanitarian response. Further, the United Nations immediately released $14.1 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and Lebanon Humanitarian Fund (LHF) to support emergency operations.
In order to facilitate an efficient and effective UN coordinated international response, an emergency humanitarian coordination structure was established under the leadership of the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC). It aimed to facilitate joint needs assessments and collective response strategies to enable the principled delivery of emergency assistance to the affected, building on pre-existing capacity and resources of the UN agencies and NGOs already implementing humanitarian activities in Lebanon.
The UN-coordinated Lebanon Flash Appeal 2020, seeking US$354.9 million was launched on 14 August and articulated a collective response to cover the main needs of 300,000 people within the sectoral areas of protection, education, food security, health, shelter, WASH and logistics. In view of the major response efforts implemented through bilateral support to the Government of Lebanon, as well as through the Lebanese civil society, the appeal was revised downward to $196.6 million in November 2020.
In the first weeks, medical and surgical supplies, along with medications, were provided to hospitals and health care centres for treatment of injuries; damages to houses and health facilities were assessed; emergency shelter kits were distributed to ensure safety and protection; plumbing repairs were undertaken; hygiene and baby kits, in addition to in-kind food parcels and hot meals, were distributed; 12,500 metric tons of wheat flour were distributed to millers; 12 mobile storage units were set up at the Port to temporary augment storage capacity for humanitarian goods and cargo; protection services, and psychosocial and mental health support services were provided; and resources were allocated for debris clearance efforts.
During the following months, the response continuously adapted based on the more precisely assessed needs of the affected population, gradually progressing towards the provision of cash assistance to increase households’ purchasing power to cover their food and other necessities, and medium-term interventions expected to pave the way for longer- term recovery and reconstruction. Some early recovery activities, including cash for work, support to micro, small and medium enterprises, and recovery and reconstruction work, were also conducted. Those activities were subsequently integrated into the Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (3RF), developed by the World Bank Group, United Nations and European Union and formally launched in December 2020 following the second Paris aid conference co- hosted by France and the United Nations.
In the immediate aftermath of the explosions, the United Nations partnered with the Lebanese Red Cross, building on its solid capacity and network of volunteers, to undertake the initial assessment of needs. The Assessment and Analysis Cell under the EOC subsequently brought together partners to agree on a common strategy to provide timely analysis in support of decision makers during the first phase of the emergency response.
Throughout the response, attention of humanitarian actors was maintained on gender equality. This was possible thanks to the integration of gender expertise from the initial stages of the response in key coordination fora, the preparation of gender analysis, and the use of sex and age disaggregated data (SADD) in needs assessments, monitoring exercises, as well as in referral mechanisms.
While the involvement of myriads of different actors, including private individuals, companies and charities, at times responding in unstructured ways, proved challenging for traditional humanitarian actors as well as for the overall Government-led coordination effort, the work of those first responders was undoubtedly invaluable and greatly contributed to the speed of the response. Humanitarian sectors and the Emergency Operations Cell (EOC) established at the onset of the response played a critical role in supporting a more efficient and effective coordination of the overall efforts. The systematic engagement with local and less traditional actors, including via other coordination mechanisms that had emerged organically at the neighborhood level remained complex despite the strong coordination role played by the local NGO forum LHDF.
As the Lebanese Armed Forces were given the primary operational coordination responsibility by the Government of Lebanon, Civil-Military Coordination (CMCoord) efforts, initiated at the onset of the response, were crucial to establish a working relationship with the Beirut Forward Emergency Room (FER) based on humanitarian principles and Inter- Agency Standing Committee (IASC) guidance on civil-military relations.
Progress for all projects of the Flash Appeal were tracked through Sector-specific indicators in a dedicated reporting and monitoring platform, allowing for the regular publication of situation reports and analysis. This complemented the tracking of funding, inside and outside the Flash Appeal, in the OCHA managed Funding Tracking Services (FTS). While reporting of reprogrammed funds from pre-explosions operational plans, as well as systematic reporting by donors of their contributions could have been improved to maximize the comprehensiveness of the FTS platform, notably for activities outside the Flash Appeal, overall funding as of end of April is $314 million, with $165 million funded against the Flash Appeal and $149M reportedly received outside of the coordinated plan.
The Lebanon Flash Appeal formally ended on 31 December 2020 but the implementation of some activities continue in 2021. Vulnerable population affected by the Beirut Port explosions continue to require assistance in 2021 as they could not fully recover from the impact of the explosions in the larger context of the ongoing political and socio-economic crisis in country, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, while the UN and partners aim to focus their efforts on longer-term interventions, it is expected that tailored humanitarian interventions will continue to be required for extremely vulnerable and marginalized groups.