With 845 confirmed cases, it is official: the coronavirus is now spreading in Lebanon. This comes in the middle of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that already severely impacted the most vulnerable in the country. When they need our support the most, isolation and lockdown measures seem to tighten by the day, forcing us to put many of our programs on hold and leaving many families at high risk in front of the coronavirus threat.
We love our local partners and we don’t want them to take any risk, but we are very concerned that the coronavirus might prove disastrous for the most vulnerable in Lebanon. How can we keep on loving both our partners and the families they serve? And in the time of corona, can we still collectively contribute to showing God’s love to the marginalized people around us?
A crisis in a crisis
As of May 11, Lebanon had recorded 845 positive cases and 26 deaths from the coronavirus. On March 15, the Lebanese government declared a medical state of emergency, which required all individuals to remain at home except for matters of “extreme necessity”. All schools, malls, cafes, and restaurants remain closed, as well as the airport and all maritime and land ports of entry.
Lebanon, which hosts the highest number of refugees per capita in the world, remains highly vulnerable to a large-scale coronavirus outbreak due to its population density and an ongoing economic crisis that has overwhelmed its health care system and capacity to manage a health crisis.
Since mass anti-government protests began in October 2019, triggering an unprecedented and long-simmering economic and financial crisis, hundreds of restaurants and companies have closed, and thousands of people have lost their job or suffered pay cuts. The World Bank estimates that a minimum of 40% of the Lebanese population now live under the poverty line. Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound has lost 50 percent of its value and prices of food and consumer goods have increased substantially. These staggering price increases and reductions in purchasing power have the greatest negative impact on Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese, many of whom already have significant debt.
In this challenging context, a large-scale coronavirus outbreak would prove disastrous for the most vulnerable in the country.
The most exposed
Wash your hands often and stay at home, they say! If you get sick, isolate yourself. But what if those basic preventive measures prove impossible to apply? What if the only “home” you have is a small room that you happen to share with ten other people? What if you don’t even have access to clean water or good quality soap?
Because of their poor living conditions, most refugees, vulnerable Lebanese, and migrant workers are particularly exposed to the spread of the coronavirus. They live in overcrowded homes and neighborhoods, are already physically suffering from a harsh winter, have been further deprived of their meager livelihoods by the economic crisis, and cannot afford a healthy nutritional diet that would boost their immune system.
If the coronavirus starts spreading among the most vulnerable in Lebanon, we are concerned that it might have dramatic consequences, as they are at a higher risk of developing complications from the disease and many cannot even afford to pay for transportation to go to the closest hospital, much less the cost of treatment.
A doctor we work with in Beirut’s most impoverished neighborhood seems to share this concern:
“Many of the people we work with suffer from some level of malnutrition and there is a higher rate of chronic diseases among them, like diabetes or heart diseases. That makes them much more vulnerable to possible complications if they catch the virus. Concerning Syrians in particular, there is still no clear understanding of who is going to care and pay for them. That is very worrisome.”
A heart to serve
Despite it all, most of our local partners have expressed a desire to continue serving the most vulnerable in their communities, especially when it comes to food distributions, which remain a vital necessity. Some have also started to organize themselves to distribute hygiene items, as one of our partners in the outskirts of Beirut told us:
“We have two options; either be paralyzed by fear, or go out of our comfort zone and find new ways to support the most vulnerable around us. Driven by the words of Jesus to go and help those in need, and with the little that we have, we prepared hygiene kits to be distributed for 50 of the neediest refugees’ families around us.”
But they want to serve in a way that does not represent a potential further harm for the people. Most of them have completely reorganized the way they work. Our partner doctor confirms:
“It is emotionally exhausting to try to draw the line between staying and helping and staying and causing further harm by potentially contributing to contaminate people through overcrowding. Sometimes we just feel like closing everything and going home. But then we remember the people and that they need our support. So we decided to keep the clinic open but reorganized everything: there is only a nurse, a psychosocial worker, and myself. We only take in medical or social emergencies and we enforce distancing as much as we can.”
A duty to protect
To help protect our local partners as they continue to serve, we are providing guidance on how to safely distribute food assistance in the coming weeks, as well as basic personal protective equipment, including masks, bleach and pump sprays, alcohol to clean pens, gloves, and hand sanitizer.
In turn, we are well advanced in providing vulnerable families with essential hygiene kits to meet their immediate sanitary needs. Each kit contains 12 bars of soap, two bottles of hand sanitizer, and two packages of paper towels. We also started distributing washable and reusable face masks, sewn by the women from three sewing groups we have supported in the past.
The provision of masks and hygiene kits will not only help prevent the spread of the coronavirus within densely populated refugee and vulnerable Lebanese settlements, it will also provide much-needed relief to vulnerable households amidst Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis.
You can help save lives
This is when you come into the picture. Wherever you are, you have the possibility to contribute to saving lives here. With $50, you can help us cover the cost of three hygiene kits, and help protect three families from the virus and its consequences. In turn, you help protect all the other families that they would potentially have contaminated. Please consider this small investment, as it would have an exponential positive impact on the most vulnerable.
And of course, please keep us, our local partners, and the families they serve, in your prayers. As Talia, another one of our inspiring partners stated, we believe that “the Lord is teaching us a new way to serve. A way that breaks routine. This is a time we need to all be lifting our eyes upon the Lord and seeking His face. Prayer is what can change everything to turn out for the better.”