[Contact Jason Mier & Animals Lebanon c/o [email protected].]
On the afternoon of 4 August 2020, our lives exploded.
2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate [a byproduct of manure from factory-farmed chickens], had been stored at the Beirut port, in the heart of the city, for six years. At 6:08 p.m. on August 4, 2020 this caught fire, causing one of the largest-ever non-nuclear explosions.
More than 217 people were killed.
More than 7,500 people were injured.
More than 300,000 people were left homeless.
Entire areas of Beirut were destroyed. The explosion was felt more than 200 kilometers away and shocked the world.
Our office had closed only minutes earlier.
No one could understand what had happened. Most thought it only happened to their immediate area.
“Two hours after the explosion, we were on the ground”
Long minutes followed of frantic phone calls that would not go through.
Then finally came some bits of communication, some pictures and videos. Still no one knew what had really happened, the scale of it, or the sheer destruction. Only that there was an explosion at the port.
Everyone had to take care of themselves first. Then a few of us made it to the Animals Lebanon office, not knowing the extent of the damage or the condition of the animals in our care.
When we entered the front door there was glass and blood covering every surface. CCTV footage shows large glass panels being blown out, animals running in fear, and as their feet were cut by the glass, bloody footprints everywhere.
The injured animals were rushed to a vet clinic.
Two hours after the explosion we were on the ground. By day two we had a specific stand, tent, table, and equipment.
Nine days of scaling up
By day three we were able to develop this into a functioning staging area that allowed us to coordinate volunteers, meet people who lost pets, reunite pets with families, distribute goods, hold animals, and rush animals to vet clinics.
It took nine days of scaling up operations before we felt as if we were managing.
Our efforts focused on finding lost pets, searching for injured animals, holding animals for people who were injured or lost their homes, and providing pet food and supplies to people in the affected area.
A WhatsApp group was started for volunteers. Then we reached the group limit, and finally more than 350 people volunteered during this time.
People and animals were shuttled in and out of the area on motorcycles. Roads full of rubble were impassible. Even after the roads were cleared of protests, traffic jams and roadblocks made motorcycles necessary.
Volunteers put up hundreds of posters throughout Beirut advertising lost pets. Hundreds more posters were put up urging people to contact Animals Lebanon is they needed help. We also broadcast ads on radio and via social media encouraging people to contact us, and showing photos of pets who were still missing.
All of this was complicated by the chaos, coronavirus, violent demonstrations, government resignation, and Beirut being put under military control.
Four months later, coping with the aftermath of the explosion remained our focus. We still had many rescued cats and dogs to be rehomed, along with animals we were holding for guardians who had fled the country, or were still too badly injured or not yet settled enough to take their animals back.
By the numbers
Altogether, Animals Lebanon received more that 870 requests for help.
354 people volunteered to help us do search and rescue work and give care to animals.
412 animals received veterinary care.
139 animals were taken to our shelter.
127 rescued animals were reunited with their people, but 68 animals required rehoming. Sixteen animals were reported to us as lost, but were never found.
Animals Lebanon distributed 9,600 kilograms of food for affected animals.
Animals Lebanon and our volunteers spent more than 7,900 hours on the ground in the affected area.
Lebanon one year later
Lebanon was on its way to collapse before the explosion and is still in a devastating freefall.
Nationwide protests in October 2019 brought many problems into the open, but those problems had been developing long before the protests.
One year after the explosion, there has been no real investigation. Few questions about it have been answered, there has been no truth or accountability, no one has been held responsible, and there as been no justice.
Lebanon is still without a government. Six days after the explosion the prime minister resigned.
Three prime ministers have been nominated since then, but none of them have been able to form a government. The lack of a competent government is preventing needed reforms and blocking international support.
“Many are left in darkness”
The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic collapse is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century. In early 2020, long before the Beirut explosion, Lebanon defaulted on foreign debt. The currency has lost nearly 95% of the value it formerly had. The Lebanese minimum wage has dropped to $1 per day. More than 70% of the population is now living in poverty. Hyperinflation makes many products unaffordable, and prices continue to rise as subsidies are lifted.
Barely two hours of electricity per day are provided. The lack of electricity leaves whole cities in the dark. Hospitals are forced to make difficult choices, government institutions cannot function, and restaurants and supermarkets throw away spoiled food.
Overworked generators can only fill part of the gap. The cost of fuel means generator service costs more than minimum wage.
Many people are left in darkness, amid warnings that government electricity may soon stop completely.
“Coronavirus cases are on the rise again”
Fuel shortages are affecting everyone. Without hard currency, importing enough fuel to supply the needs is no longer possible. Prices have tripled as subsidies are lifted. Fuel is rationed. Lines of hundreds of cars wait at gas stations. Frustration has turned into violent fights over fuel.
Medications are hard to find and pharmacies continue to strike or close. Subsidies have been reduced or fully lifted, making many lifesaving medications unaffordable to most. Entire networks have been set up for people to help find or trade for medications. Visitors to Lebanon bring suitcases full of medications for friends and family.
Coronavirus cases are on the rise again. New restrictions are being put in place, but as hospitals struggle with the economic crisis, lack of medicine, and fuel, caring for new COVID cases will be a struggle.
Animals Lebanon one year later
The last 12 months have been our most challenging since Animals Lebanon started in 2008.
Animals Lebanon was already scrambling, before the Beirut explosion, to cope with the economic, political, and humanitarian crisis that started in late 2019. Then coronavirus, lockdowns, and travel restrictions further complicated the situation.
Then came the devastating explosion, upending our work for nearly six months, making the situation increasingly unbearable.
Animals Lebanon must accept that we are operating in a different and unstable environment, with changing animal welfare needs.
“Lost half of our annual budget overnight”
We lost half of our annual budget overnight as long-time donors are no longer able to access funds trapped in banks and currency sharply devalues.
Our fundraising has shifted to international efforts. Sponsors in the U.S. and Europe have enabled us to raise funds and have them safely held and accessible.
We are working on setting up our own facility on a donated plot of land in the mountains outside of Beirut. This was always a goal for us, as it will better enable many aspects of our operations and further improve the welfare of animals in our care.
Becoming self-sufficient, with our own water source and renewable energy , is more important now with the breakdown of government services, and allows us to distance the organization from other problems.
People who used to help animals now need help themselves
The Animals Lebanon animal welfare education program is being moved online, taking advantage of the new tools and teaching methods students have used during lockdown, to provide free education in Arabic to primary students.
We have an agreement with the Ministry of Education to integrate animal welfare education into the new national curriculum, but amid the governmental collapse, projects are at a standstill.
Community support and needs have changed. People who used to donate or help rescue animals on their own now need help to buy food for their own animals.
We are receiving more requests from leaving the country for assistance in rehoming pets.
Adoptions have dropped drastically. Much of our support has shifted to trying to keep families together, preventing people from possibly abandoning their pets.
We have distributed more than 12 tons of food, provided hundreds of free vaccines, increased spay and neuter for rescued pets, and offer subsidized veterinary care, and will continue to expand these areas of help.
How can Animals Lebanon best help animals if Lebanon collapses?
Lebanese zoos and the animals they keep have always been in extremely poor condition. With the economic crisis, these endangered animals are at greater risk from poor care and starvation.
We want to prevent what has happened in many other nations caught in conflict and economic crisis and send many of these animals to sanctuaries before it is too late.
Sadly, we are also planning for a worst-case scenario. How can Animals Lebanon best help animals if Lebanon collapses fully? If insecurity increases, if there is conflict, if basic living conditions become impossible, if we cannot find food or fuel or medication, if banking restrictions cut Lebanon off?
We are working to better develop Animals Lebanon’s remote capabilities, to be more flexible, take advantage of communication tools, and use our reach and standing with the community to continue to make a major difference for animals in Lebanon, even if everything else works against us.
Animals Lebanon extends our most sincere thank you and appreciation to everyone who made our work following the explosion possible, and for keeping Animals Lebanon going during this incredibly challenging time.