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Responding to Lebanon’s crisis: mobilising philanthropic funds

7 August 2020

The article at a glance

The emergency in Lebanon caused by the explosion of a stock of ammonium nitrate has created a devastating new level of crisis …

Vigil for victims of the Beirut explosion, August 2020
A vigil for the victims of the explosium in Beirut / Mehr News Agency / CC BY

The emergency in Lebanon caused by the explosion of a stock of ammonium nitrate has created a devastating new level of crisis in a country already ravaged by COVID-19 and the entrenched failure of the public sector and political leadership. On 7 March 2020, the country defaulted on its debt sending the economy into free fall. Lebanon’s economy, primarily based on finance, real estate and tourism, relied heavily on remittances from the diaspora. The Central Bank had been borrowing dollars from commercial banks, a strategy that failed when bank deposits started declining. Now consumer prices are set to go up 53 per cent while the currency falls steeply – while the Lebanese pound is pegged at 1500 to a dollar, in open market a dollar fetches 4000 pounds. The toll all this has taken on the Lebanese people is enormous.

Clearly financial resources are needed urgently and philanthropic grants (quick to market and easy to disburse) should be leading the way. Specific practical needs have been well documented by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and range from medical support, to housing, cash assistance and basic food stuffs. All of these were already massively underfunded and in short supply before the crisis.

Philanthropists – institutional and individual – would do well to free up any spare grant money (e.g. that saved due to operational programmes being put on hold due to COVID-19) and to offer it unconditionally to locally established organisations with distribution capability on the ground. Taking a very localised approach to giving will likely maximise impact ensuring local knowledge guides deployment and that local community idiosyncrasies are not ignored. Arab foundations with years of experience working in the country have been quick to mobilise. Al Fanar, a pioneer of venture (“hands-on”) philanthropy in the region has already established a giving platform and is well connected to grassroots communities and notably refugees.

Naila Farouky, the CEO of the Arab Foundations Forum, the region’s only philanthropic professional association with members in Lebanon, says: “If philanthropy can do anything at this critical time it would be to mobilise funding and resources quickly and in as unfettered way as possible. Lebanon, in addition to coping with an already egregiously compromised economy, the impact of COVID-19, a growing refugee population, and political turmoil, now needs to cope with the severe consequences of having its port destroyed which seriously hinders its capacity to import critical resources. What it doesn’t need is an additional layer of bureaucracy and red tape. With already restrictive banking regulations making cross-border giving a challenge, the best bet is for funders to leverage the ability of on-the-ground, local NGOs to navigate the environment easily and efficiently.”

While this crisis is clearly a case for immediate emergency mobilisation, it is also a strategic issue for the long-term socio-economic survival of the country given the huge importance of infrastructure. In this critical time, it is not the State but the Lebanese people who have risen to the occasion. As Dr Charlotte M. Karam, Associate Professor at the American University of Beirut, told us, “As the dust and shock are starting to settle, and the damage is starting to be comprehended, there is mobilising to help. People for the people! What is clearly palpable is that where energy and breath remain, people are mourning and at the same time working tirelessly to help others, selfless acts of love. Children, elderly, teenagers, are all working together to help in the relief effort, provide care/resources where needed. The love and efforts of this country in ruin is awe-inspiring. There is love all around.”

Philanthropists and ordinary people need to support the Lebanese people in this difficult time. Please visit the following links for giving: