For the recovery of Beirut

Beirut Blast Emergency Response



Background & Situation analysis:

On the 4th of August 2020 a third largest non-nuclear explosion blasted Beirut port, killing 204 victims and injuring over 7000. Many of the victims went missing several weeks or survived for months before surrendering to the severity of their injuries. Up until the time of writing this report, 7 months later to the explosion, the exact causes are still pending investigations, but so far, the explosion has been attributed to 2,750 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate in one chamber 12 of the port warehouses.


The explosion had a devastating impact on Beirut. Almost half the city was destroyed in addition to the adjacent areas in Mount Lebanon governorate that were severely damaged. In the affected areas, people have lost homes and businesses, including restaurants, bars, and hotels, while already facing a deep economic crisis. According to UNDP, a total of 200,000 housing units were affected in Beirut. An estimated 40,000 buildings were damaged, including 3,000 non-repairable. Over 15,000 businesses, almost 50% of Beirut establishments, were estimated to be damaged, the majority in the wholesale, retail and hospitality sectors.


Three major hospitals in Beirut, with the highest ranking in the Middles East, were severely damaged, including the Karantina Government hospital of Beirut. However, the WHO rapidly responded with reconstruction planning and admissions restarted as soon as the 21st of August, 16 days later to the explosion.

The explosion came amid a deep financial and political crisis. Around 10,000 enterprises in the direct vicinity of the blast have been destroyed or put out of business, leaving over 70,000 people unemployed.


The coping capacity of people was already stretched due to the Syrian refugee crisis, economic, fiscal and financial crises, and an exponential increase in the covid19 cases. Poor households, refugees and migrant workers are particularly vulnerable as they have less resources to repurchase or replace damaged or destroyed belongings, reconstruct damaged shelters and buy food and essential items. These groups also often live in densely populated neighborhoods of Greater Beirut, with limited access to services.


Food, fuel and electricity, as well as other non-food items, were already becoming more expensive before the explosion, due to hyperinflation (reaching 240% at the time of writing the report with no estimated ceiling for increase) and the loss in value of the local currency. The explosion destroyed Beirut's main wheat silos existing on the port and fortunately its size, location and construction quality, it prevented a further catastrophe in eastern Beirut. However, the loss of hundreds of tons of wheat aggravated the already expressed concerns on the nation food security. Many imports now are diverted to Tripoli, a port with less capacity than Beirut, increasing the transportation cost over the goods and likely putting further upward pressure on prices of food and basic commodities which have been rising steadily due to the economic crisis.


Protests have been ongoing in Beirut since October 2019 and surged following the explosion, with people calling for the resignation of the cabinet under the presidency of Prime Minister Hassan Diab who resigned the 10th of August, 6 days after the explosion.


The YMCA team concluded from the primary rapid assessment that in the affected and assessed areas many households are in need of shelter and shelter material. The displaced population estimated around 300,000 people are housed with families, friends, and fellow citizens while elderlies, migrant workers and refugees required targeted support from organizations. Limited initiatives turned some fewer schools, hotels and public buildings to temporary shelters offered to the most affected. In synergy with the emergency support provided by hundreds of agencies and NGOs, the YMCA team identified a niche to assist the affected families, ensuring a swift return to their homes.


The YMCA provides subsidized NCDs medications including essential mental health medications to vulnerable populations through the chronic medications program, based on an approved Essential Chronic medication list, updated every 3 years in consultation with WHO and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). This program is a joint initiative between the MOPH and the YMCA for the provision of chronic medications to the most vulnerable in Lebanon. The MOPH-YMCA joint chronic medications program has been operational since 1988 and is implemented through a network of 465 health facilities (latest list 28 July 2021operated by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), NGOs, and Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) across the country. YMCA is working with the MOPH to review this list taking into consideration catchment areas and number of active beneficiaries.





Staff and Volunteers: First Responders

The YMCA of Lebanon train and work every year at least with 80 young people, more specifically the social work background, attaching the advancement of volunteering, community engagement and development of youth abilities through the capacity building component provided at the summer camp training. This component is closely developed and accompanied by the Lebanese University, social work faculty since the early 90s. In addition to this youth-oriented capacity building component, the YMCA of Lebanon partnered with YMCA of Finland since 2017 in advancing advocacy for social inclusion using sports and community engagement as a tool. During this experience, 70 youth volunteers were trained on arranging and managing community engagement within the most vulnerable clusters of Lebanese and Syrian refugees, in Beirut and Bekaa. When Beirut was facing the catastrophic aftermath of the explosion, these same volunteers with their friends were the ones mobilized to support the affected families.


The 3rd day following the explosion, the YMCA staff members were on the ground supporting at first with picking up the rubble and exploring the best ways to assist the affected families. Youth volunteers from Bekaa started to mobilize without any intervention from the staff at first. Capitalizing on their movement, the YMCA staff started organizing the trips from Bekaa and arranging the logistical means for volunteers to work.


The first 3 weeks after the explosion, due to the tremendous level of destruction, the most important assistance we could provide was helping the families pick up the rubble, cleaning houses and collaborate with many organizations who were providing warm food, cash and other type of assistance to stream their support to needy families. Staff and youth leaders from YMCA started to organize multi-layered interventions while forming the logistics for an average of 70 volunteers daily. It is worth mentioning that the capacity building of these volunteers was never on managing emergency work at this scale, yet it came handy all the trainings on organizing teams and interventions.


At the end of the 4th week of YMCA emergency intervention in early September, the youth volunteers supported the affected families in the destruction areas by:


  • Distributing warm food and food rations donated by various NGOs
  • Installing plastic sheets on broken windows
  • Picking up the rubble and cleaning homes
  • Cleaning public spaces
  • Clearing the destruction of education facilities
  • Installing water infrastructure
  • Psychosocial support for families; (psychologist and senior volunteers)


The figure below showcase the work of volunteers from the 6th of August till the 2nd of September 2020



Hiring Youth Workers:

After the 5th week of first responder’s initiative, the operations with youth volunteers was exhaustive and the needs were shifting. The staff concluded the volunteer work the first week of September and adopted a different strategy to continue supporting affected families. 12 youth workers with experience in soft renovation were selected for hiring. The YMCA staff identified homes and small businesses that needed soft renovation and allocated the youth workers to assist. This intervention continued till the end of December benefiting:


  • 11 small businesses in Achrafieh region
  • 6 households with soft to heavy renovation (tiling, painting, plumbing, doors reparation…)
  • 12 households with only soft renovation (cleaning, painting, minor maintenance...)


In our collaboration with different agencies and NGOs, a lot of materials for the soft renovations were donated. In many cases the affected families provided the materials and in fewer cases YMCA acquired what was necessary to finish the work.

It is important to mention that the youth volunteers as well as later on youth workers, included Syrian refugees. The YMCA team considers that a successful impact made through its projects was the creation of cooperative relations between Lebanese and Syrian youth.




Direct Support / Total Aid by YMCA:

Following the emergency reports from OCHA and other agencies, the YMCA team was proactive in focusing on specific assistance avoiding the overlap with other organizations initiatives, impact the lives of the affected families, and complement the humanitarian and emergency work that was conducted.


From OCHA dashboard, the funds received and reported by agencies were distributed within the following sectors:



In synergy with NGOs and INGOs operational in Beirut, the YMCA identified major needs in the shelter and health sector that weren’t a priority focus. People who wanted to return to their homes damaged by the blast didn’t have the means for complete reparation.


The destruction included their home appliances and water installations. Numerous organizations were focusing on reconstruction and soft-renovations. Yet fewer oriented their funds to support families with basic shelter needs such as kitchen appliance (refrigerators, stoves,..).  


Hence, following recommendations from many grassroots partners and INGOs active in Beirut, the YMCA chose to channel the support into appliances, especially when under the current economic situation in Lebanon, such appliances became extremely expensive (a refrigerator will cost a Lebanese family 6 times the minimum wage)



Consequently, YMCA support to the most vulnerable affected families until 31st of December 2020 were as the following:



In total, the YMCA was able to support until the 31st of December 2020, 426 affected families (directly; indirectly: 1619 family members; based on Lebanon reported average family size 3.8), provided equipment for 2 operational centers for the Lebanese Civil Defense, provided schools and institutions with 19 water tanks 10 of which are being used to supply water for households in Karantina area (one of the most vulnerable and affected areas in Beirut). This support wouldn’t be possible without the generous contribution from:


  • Felm
  • Filantropia
  • YMCA of Finland
  • The YMCA World Alliance
  • The Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland
  • YMCA of Hong Kong
  • YMCA of USA





YMCA is an indigenous organization in Lebanon, established in 1931, 14 years earlier to when the country was officially declared an independent nation. Its presence goes deep through the diversity of societal clusters. Only through the medical program, YMCA serve more than 200,000 patients with chronic illnesses by providing their medications, through a network of 450 Primary Health Care Centers, distributed all over Lebanon. That gives YMCA a distinguished position being well rooted within communities and able to organize initiatives on national level at the same time. This fact is well recognized by local and international NGOs who find interest in collaboration due to the YMCA ability to organize programs, youth volunteers and initiatives even in the emergency concept. In responding to the Beirut explosion, the YMCA staff and volunteers collaborated with the following NGOs:


Basmeh & Zeitooneh:

From the first day the YMCA started to mobilize and work at the emergency sites, Basmeh and Zeitooneh were complementing the needs of youth for additional equipment and materials. For most of the first intervention period, the YMCA staff and youth leaders organized and managed visits and distribution of tasks with youth volunteers and staff members from B&Z.

Vision: To foster a constructive society that lives with dignity

Mission: To empower individuals through working amongst the most vulnerable and marginalized groups to fill the gaps in development assistance, and respond to the most urgent relief and developmental needs to contribute to the advancement of society.


Polish Center for International Aid:

During the YMCA youth leaders work at the affected areas, the reputation about their support, efficiency and adequacy was spreading. PCPM approached our youth and suggested their support. PCPM provided us with heavy plastic sheets to cover windows of the damaged houses to sustain winter. The provided materials were high quality and didn’t require expertise for installation. Youth were able to serve 33 household through the PCPM provided materials.


Rise Up Lebanon:

Is a youth led initiative that started before the Beirut explosion to support collapsing small businesses due to the economic deterioration. The YMCA collaborated with RUL through many initiatives:

  • Bundle of Joy: support 10 SMEs in the affected areas during Christmas by promoting and providing them with the raw materials to produce Christmas gifts.
  • Soft-renovation for 11 small business and damage assessment for 140 businesses in Achrafieh area


Maronite Archdiocese of Beirut:

MA of Beirut was an essential partner for the YMCA. First, our youth volunteers supported the MA by clearing the rubbles from the heavily damaged technical school and from the Archdiocese large facility. In consequence, trust and collaboration grew in-between and the Archbishop allowed us to use one of the buildings as operational focal point. This facilitated substantially the work of youth and their movement in the affected areas and made the premises a reference for affected families to come and request support. In addition, the YMCA collaborated with the MA of Beirut in many interventions:

  • Distributing bread (1000 portions every day for 2 weeks after the explosion)
  • Distributing food rations
  • Sharing database on affected families for support with home appliances
  • Assessing the damages of 400 homes
  • Providing wooden doors for the reparation of homes


Sagesse Technique:

Under the auspices of Beirut Archbishop, the Sagesse Technical School also became a partner in the emergency response. As mentioned above, the operations command was centralized at their premises. They partially provided youth volunteers from YMCA and different organizations with sandwiches and refreshments (YMCA filled the gap when needed).



One of the major problems, considering Lebanon water gathering infrastructure and the inaccessibility of tap water, was the destruction of a roof-mounted water reservoirs. The YMCA started with providing water tanks 2 weeks after the explosion. However we knew that the needs are immense; we learned that UNICEF are leading the WASH efforts and established a mechanism for water tanks distribution and installment for affected families. The YMCA contributed to these efforts by providing 200 water tanks to UNICEF partner (LebRelief)


Lebanese Army: Beirut Forward Emergency Room

After the second week of the blast, everybody went to the rescue (NGOs, INGOs, individuals,..). an umbrella was well needed to coordinate all the efforts of first responding and reconstructions. For that, the Lebanese Army, being the most trusted institution by Lebanese, create the Beirut Forward Emergency Room. Naturally the YMCA registered and collaborated with the emergency room, reporting the progress of the work and the upcoming plans.


Civil Defense:

The civil defense sustained heavy losses in Beirut explosion with 10 victims died while trying extinguishing the fire at Beirut port before the catastrophe. Many centers around Beirut were completely or partially destroyed. To begin with, the CD was operating on very scarce resources, utilizing mostly the services of volunteers. The YMCA collaborated with the civil defense and provided them with equipment to help their ranks perform at basic level (the YMCA provided appliances for 2 centers and medical stretcher trolley for their ambulance)


Bourad El Hayy:

It is an initiative that started before the Beirut explosion, supporting families in Beirut during the economic crisis, through providing warm food (500 portion daily) and family food packages. The YMCA staff and volunteers supported Bourad El Hay in distributing warm food to needy people during August September (Bourad El Hay Initiative focus on social workers but lacked the logistical means for distribution. YMCA allocated two cars and 2 staff members and 4 youth volunteers for the distribution). We continued with this collaboration till late December 2020.




Training and capacity building


Wellbeing camp for Youth volunteers:

After working for 35 days in Beirut, volunteers were deeply affected by the destruction they witnessed and the kind of despair they experienced while supporting the affected families. That took a toll on them and soon after, symptoms of distress and anger reactions started to emerge. After referring to experts and receiving recommendations on conducting a workshop on wellbeing, the YMCA staff decided to arrange a 2 day camp for wellbeing engaging all the youth who participated in Beirut Emergency.


Do No Harm training for staff:

After almost a month from the Beirut blast, the YMCA team found through the continuous field evaluations that the group needs capacity building on wellbeing for the staff members and volunteers. The YMCA team and volunteers were not trained on emergency response in such a catastrophic scale and the field work was very challenging. Consequently, a training on Do No Harm concept was conducted the 9th of September for staff, volunteers, partnering NGOs (RiseUp Lebanon, Bourad El Hay, 500+) and professional psychologist who were working at the explosion site with the affected families. The scope of training was to define the elements of Do No Harm concept, brain storm about what are the best practices/behaviors that conserve the wellbeing of workers and families. Actual cases from field were discussed. Participants discussed negative effects on the community, challenging situations and coping mechanisms.