‘A trust deficit’ in funding aid to Beirut

A German Red Cross worker inspects a list during preparations for the German Red Cross flight with relief supplies at the Schoenefeld airport in Brandenburg near Berlin, Germany, 08 August 2020. (KEYSTONE / EPA / CLEMENS BILAN)

A familiar emblem appeared repeatedly in the TV coverage of the Beirut explosion: the insignia of Lebanon’s national Red Cross, cropping up as images of the group’s workers caring for people injured in the blast flitted across screens. At one point the Lebanese Red Cross — the national affiliate of the Geneva-based international IFRC — reported receiving thousands of calls per minute on its phone hotline. And all this while keeping Covid-19 response work on track. 

The aftermath. In the week and a half since the deadly explosion shocked Beirut, the death toll has climbed to at least 220, Lebanon’s prime minister and cabinet resigned, and security forces reportedly shot rubber bullets and tear gas at unarmed protesters. Lebanese have been cleaning their own streets of rubble and raising money for the Lebanese Red Cross and local NGOs, who are on the ground helping those injured and displaced by the blast.  The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement has appealed for CHF 20 million to fund healthcare, shelter, and other elements of the emergency response

Reconstruction. The UN has been helping to coordinate the donations that have poured in from various countries, as well as an influx of search and rescue and volunteer teams, but the international community will soon be even more involved in the aid effort, as it asks donor countries for hundreds of millions of dollars to help Lebanon weather the immediate aftermath of the blast. It’s just a drop in the ocean of what aid groups say they need now – and in the future – to help Lebanon bounce back, but with talk of reconstruction comes with controversy and concerns over corruption, not to mention neo-colonialism.

The UN says it’s including some reconstruction activities in its $565 million “flash appeal” (for example, rebuilding damaged hospitals and a medical warehouse). However, it has acknowledged in public that the notoriously corrupt Lebanese political system has a “trust deficit” and many potential donor countries would not consider channeling funds through the Lebanese government.