The Beirut Explosion Could Burst Lebanon’s Refugee Bubble

In order to avert a potentially ruinous humanitarian crisis, we must act fast.

August 4, 2020 was a warm day in Southern California. By noon I finished my morning chores and sat down at the kitchen table, ready to get work done. I received a text from a close friend whose extended family lives in Beirut. “My mom just came in crying because of the explosion in Lebanon,” it said.

I quickly searched Google and Youtube for the news. The first video I pulled up was shot on a cellphone, as most were. In it, a giant smoke cloud billowed in the distance and cars whizzed by in the foreground, but no explosion. Seconds later, there it was – a shock wave, then roofs of buildings flattening and the clouds overhead parting in a show of unimaginable destruction and force. I was almost certain it was a nuclear explosion. As I combed through every other video I could find, I sat back in disbelief. This was far more than just an explosion, I thought. This could fate an entire country to ruin.

From that point on I was glued to news sites for updates. I gravitated toward the number of people left homeless following the blast – an estimated 300,000, according to USA Today. In a matter of minutes almost half a million Lebanese residents, or 22 percent of the country’s population, became internally displaced within the country.

In 2019, there was already an estimated 7,000 internally displaced persons within Lebanon due to conflicts and disasters, according to the IDMC. The projected number of newly displaced persons per year due to sudden-onset hazards stands at 3,444. That means in just one day the number of displaced persons from the Beirut blast has exceeded the annual projected number by 87 times.

Why is this significant? According to the UNHCR, Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita with an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees and 20,000 refugees from other locations. The Lebanese government has made it clear that it simply cannot handle any more. In May of 2019, Lebanese authorities deported 301 Syrians and implemented a decision to send illegals back who entered the country after April 24, 2019.

An inundation of newly displaced persons only compounds Lebanon’s pressing economic crisis. Due to hyperinflation, the World Bank projected that 45 percent of people who live in Lebanon would be living below the poverty line in 2020. The real number will surely exceed the projected one due to the blast.

The estimated amount of physical damages from the blast is $15 billion. Since the Lebanese government seems largely incapable of handling the compounded crises it currently faces, foreign governments and the private sector will have to be in charge of ensuring that Lebanon does not sink into flat-out ruin.

So far, the U.S. through USAID has provided $18 million in humanitarian assistance. President Macron of France has pledged €252.7 million in aid. To fill the rest of the cost gap, including the human cost of providing housing and other assistance for those who are displaced, the private sector must be tapped into. NGOs can and must spearhead this effort.

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