Lebanon COVID-19 Emergency Response

Reporting date: 13th October 2020 
Total cases: 54, 624  
Recovered: 23, 941 
Deaths: 466 

Economic collapse, social unrest, the Beirut Port explosions and, of course, COVID-19 – Lebanon is facing a multi-faceted crisis on all fronts. Perhaps the most painful though less visible outcome is the effect that all this has had on mental health and wellbeingAmidst a fraught economic situation and mounting tensions between civilians and the government; the host and refugee population, hundreds of families have been plunged into acute poverty – a result of restrictive measures put in place to contain the virus. Meanwhile, an inability to physically distance in overcrowded camps has allowed stress and anxiety levels to soarLearn about our efforts to meet basic needs while tackling this invisible emergency.  

Escalating mental health crisis  

Many of the new cases of COVID-19 have been the result of Lebanese expatriates returning home. The deteriorating situation in the country’s informal settlements has also led to a large proportion of Syrian refugees contracting the virus. These events occur amidst a context of rising tensions between the vulnerable refugee and host population; as well as between citizens and the Lebanese government, as the worst impacts of the economic downturn continue to manifest themselves. 

In this fraught environment, recurring COVID-19 lockdowns have revealed an escalating mental health crisis with vulnerable groups including women and children up against the odds. Migrant workers – many of whom are young women – are increasingly exposed to abuse and neglect, facing limited access to healthcare, long working hours, low wages, poor living conditions and restrictions on movement. A disturbing number of women seeking mental healthcare report that they have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse including exploitation, forced labour, harassment and trafficking. The lockdown has also contributed to a rise in gender-based and domestic violence cases as families stay home together in stressful circumstances. 

Couple this with the suffering – including the high number of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases – caused by the tragic 4 August Beirut port explosions and it is clear that the people of Lebanon are battling a crisis on all fronts. A crisis where invisible psychological wounds are increasingly left to fester…  

Our response  

Dorcas spared no time to respond to the arrival of COVID-19 on Lebanese shores, sending direct resources to the provision of mental healthcare services. These services will always exist alongside our core humanitarian aid package. 

Psychosocial support  

Our priority during the pandemic has been to uphold the safety and wellbeing of marginalised groups who are living with this acute reality.  

Central to this, we have adapted our safety nets programming across Lebanon. Our team of trained psychologists have been working around the clock to provide remote psychosocial support to vulnerable individuals, particularly women and children. In instances where a case is identified as high-risk, the team are conducting face-to-face follow ups at our Community Centre in Aley – following all revised health and safety protocols. We also run weekly counselling sessions and provide social and mental health assessments by phone and social media so that people can easily access a support network.  

Due to the informal nature of their work, migrant workers already face a number of major restrictions on their ability to access healthcare services inside Lebanon. The onset of the COVID-19 lockdown has only aggravated the situation – seen in a dramatic decline in migrant worker’s conditions – with dire repercussions for the physical and mental wellbeing of this unprotected workforce. Dorcas also works with community-based actors to widen access to comprehensive healthcare services including mental healthcare for migrant workers. One way in which we do this is by training people from these organisations in Psychological First Aid (PFA) – an evidence-based approach designed to support children, adolescents, adults and families in the immediate aftermath of disaster. These trainings allow people from the community to become professional psychosocial support workers in a matter of weeks – bringing us one step closer to sufficient capacity to address a mental health crisis of this scale.  

Meeting basic needs  

Due to the financial situation in the country and the pressure on the Lebanese Pound (LBP), people are unable to fulfil their basic needs, including food and sanitation, which in turn makes them more susceptible to the virus.  

Dorcas has drawn upon the generosity of partner Mission East to distribute food parcels and hygiene kits to vulnerable families across Lebanon. Through these distributions, we have been able to reach families of Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese origin in areas including the Batroun, Aley, Baabda, Metn and Qobayat districts as well as the Bourj el Barajneh Palestinian camp.  

By travelling all over the country to deliver these supplies we have also been able to address gaps and identify new needs as they arise.  

Next steps 

Amid the chaos that ensued following the catastrophic Beirut explosions; coupled with the rise in COVID-19 cases, the mental health and wellbeing of the Lebanese population is in grave threat. “Traditional emergency aid provides shelter and basic necessities for survival such as food and water”, says Najla Chahda, Country Director for our programme in Lebanon. “But how can a child eat when they have lost their appetite due to flashbacks? How can a mother sleep when she doesn’t know where tomorrow’s meal is coming from?” 

“How can a child eat when he has lost his appetite as a result of trauma? How can a mother sleep when she doesn’t know where tomorrow’s meal is coming from?” 

Najla recognises that while traditional aid remains of utmost importance, without a robust mental health response our efforts will fall short. “COVID-19 has laid bare the institutional problems that exist across all levels of Lebanese society”, she adds. “We need to act now, balancing speed with tact, in order to escape one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time.”  

Dorcas programmes in Lebanon are primarily funded by our head office, the Dutch Relief Alliance, Terre des Hommes, World Vision, Mary’s Meals, UNFPA and Mission East, in addition to private donors in the Netherlands – and implemented directly with the support of local partners including Tabitha Relief and Development and the Palestinian Women Humanitarian Organisation and MigrationWe will continue to work together to deliver evidence-based support as we enter the next phase of the pandemic. Stay up-to-date by following us on Facebook and Instagram or checking the News section of our website.  

Dorcas is also the lead member of the Lebanon Joint Response run by the Dutch Relief Alliance (DRA) – a joint effort to provide life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable people affected by the August 2020 Beirut explosions. COVID-19 protection measures and messages have been integrated into all response activities. Find out more on the DRA website.  

10 November 2020