The International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) continues to support the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) with life-saving activities reaching millions of people throughout Lebanon one year after the Beirut port explosion. The blast caused over 200 deaths, 7 500 injuries, left 300 000 people homeless and US$15 billion in property damage, but the number of people needing humanitarian assistance in Lebanon continues to rise due to economic crisis and devaluation of local currency amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
George Kettaneh, secretary general of the Lebanese Red Cross, says for many people who have lost their jobs and ability to buy food and household goods, it has become extremely difficult to buy medicines and access healthcare. He says the severe economic crisis their country is facing is shattering the lives of many people in Lebanon. “People suffering from chronic diseases can’t wait until the economic crisis is over. They need our help now to secure basic necessities such as food and medicine. We are calling on the generosity of donors to help us sustain our vital public services and to fund our response to the economic crisis,” says Kettaneh. The secretary general says since the large amount of ammonium nitrate exploded at the Beirut port on 4 August 2020, IFRC has closely supported LRC in meeting humanitarian needs of those affected. He says they have supported LRC by mobilizing resources for the emergency response and released 750 000 Swiss francs of its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund in the initial days following the explosion. “Later IFRC launched a 20 million Swiss francs global emergency appeal with the aim to assist more than 105 000 people. In addition, IFRC deployed specialized staff supporting and complementing LRC’s efforts in multiple sectors and provided financial support to ensure continuity of LRC’s daily operations in delivering vital services to vulnerable people,” says Kettaneh. Cristhian Cortez, representative of IFRC in Lebanon, says together with the Lebanese Red Cross, they are working to extend their operations. He says this includes emergency and primary health care, COVID-19 support and scaling up of blood transfusion services from 42 000 to 60 000 units per year to meet the basic needs of people in Lebanon.
“To date, the IFRC has raised 9.2 million Swiss francs through its global appeal and the LRC has supported more than 10 800 families with direct cash assistance. This comprises of seven payments of 300 US dollars each per household for a total amount of 22.8 million US dollars,” says the representative.
According to Cortez, the priority of the LRC right now is to sustain its vital emergency health and ambulances services provided free to the population and to respond to the surge in demand related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He says it also seeks to find ways to alleviate suffering resulting from severe economic crisis. As of June 2021, more than 45% of the Lebanese population is now living under the poverty line, according to the World Bank. LRC is the main national provider of ambulance and blood transfusion services in Lebanon. It operates a network of 36 primary health centers, 9 mobile clinics and 2 COVID-19 vaccination centres in Lebanon and is currently scaling up those services to better respond to the shortage of medicines and decreased access of the population to healthcare.