PIN supports 37 small businesses recover after Beirut explosionPublished: Dec 9, 2020 Reading time: 4 minutes
2020 has been a terrible year for people across the globe, yet it is hard to imagine a country that has suffered more this year than Lebanon. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Lebanon in the midst of political instability, protests and economic collapse. In early 2020, people in Lebanon started to watch their life savings and salaries fall away with the depreciation of the Lebanese currency, hyper-inflation and the banking crisis. Restrictions and waves of lockdown imposed after the outbreak of COVID-19 made matters worse economically, and the Lebanese currency hit record lows this summer. Yet, for many in the Beirut area, all of these health and economic hardships were eclipsed on the 4th August.
On this day, around 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Beirut port, killing over 200, injuring thousands and destroying or severely damaging the homes and businesses of hundreds of thousands of people.
The explosion exacerbated the country’s already-dire economic situation and as people rushed to the streets to help one another, and do what they could to rebuild their lives, cases of COVID-19 also rose, contributing to further waves of lockdown and economic stress. Businesses in the port-side area, particularly the Mar Mikhael and Karantina neighbourhoods, incurred huge losses in the explosion. Many business-owners lost office-space, supplies and equipment.
In the aftermath of the explosion, People in Need (PIN) started looking for ways to boost and restore livelihoods in the area, and partnered with a local organization, SHiFT, with expertise in this field. Having conducted in-depth assessments to determine the most vulnerable businesses in the area and their simultaneous potential for growth, PIN and SHiFT selected 37 businesses to receive support in the form of cash, materials or equipment, depending on what they needed most. The kinds of businesses receiving support include bakeries, tailors, mini-markets, hairdressers, laundrettes, bookstores and more. This support is possible thanks to donations to PIN’s “SOS Lebanon” fundraiser and from the Club of Friends.
Antoine runs a small business in Mar Mikhael, a “bakery with a twist”, called Bake Off. Bake Off, whose slogan is “we bake with passion” is the brainchild of a couple of young Lebanese people in their early twenties who wanted to make something for themselves in Lebanon. They gathered together as much capital as they could to kick things off and build something for their futures. Antoine describes what it has been like trying to keep their bakery going in the midst of all the challenges this year. “Everything was going well until the economic crisis worsened - we were forced along with it. We had to increase the prices of things bit by bit, but in a way that people could still afford to eat from us. We went along like this for a while until Corona hit. We had to open and close according to when we were allowed. We carried on in this way, closing most days at 3pm, because of the curfew at 5pm.”
By summer 2020, the economic situation and COVID-19 restrictions were already putting huge strain on micro, small and medium-size businesses, which employ over half of Lebanon’s population. These businesses are not only critical to the economy, providing people with a source of income and employment, but they are also often the beating heart of local communities, places where people are brought together.
“On the 4th of August,” Antoine continues, “we closed at 3pm and were at home by 5pm. At 6pm the explosion happened. The next day we came to the bakery, it was gone, everything was broken, there was not a thing left. So, now, we are trying as much as we can to fix everything, to reopen and get back on our feet even though it is very difficult without capital, we need help, but with time we will come back and carry on.”
Lenka Filípková, People in Need’s Area Programme Director in Lebanon, describes the next phase of the support. “After completing the selection process and procurement of equipment, we are now beginning the distributions. This week we are distributing and installing items from sewing machines to ovens and food preparation equipment to electricals, beauty equipment, furniture and stationery. We hope that this contribution will give local business-owners like Antoine an extra boost. They are already doing so much for themselves right now, and so much to support each other. It is inspiring to watch these businesses rebuild and reopen. We can’t wait to have our first manousheh [Lebanese pizza] from Bake Off soon.”