UNICEF’s response to Beirut’s August 4 explosions was lifesaving, swift and essential. Beyond the need to provide urgent assistance to hospitals and the medical sector, UNICEF partnered with local and international agencies to establish programmes to deliver emergency psychological support, cash support, and hygiene kits. Their immediate response’s leading focus was in re-establishing access to safe and clean water for thousands of people in blast-affected areas.
By day one-hundred after the explosions, UNICEF had worked with specialised partners, led water supply reconnection to 1,060 of the city’s buildings, reached 20,765 people in 4,080 households, and installed 4,882 water tanks, including 111 in three heavily affected hospitals in Karantina, Wardiya and Geitaoui.
Among the cohort of specialist teams assembled by UNICEF – which heads the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) sector in Lebanon – was its long-time partner the Veolia Foundation.
The global foundation has experience in providing emergency aid to ensure access to drinking water and energy and waste management in response to natural disasters and humanitarian crises. It also promotes development projects for these vital services, which are part of Veolia’s core expertise.
In the days following the disaster, work was focused on accessing the various sites impacted in the complex context of the health crisis. The Foundation’s Veoliaforce experts came to Beirut for a technical assessment and diagnosis assignment on August 11, working alongside the Establishment of The Water of Beirut and Mount Lebanon (EBML) and with the support of OTV Veolia Lebanon. Equipment was sent, and personnel trained. The project ensured that the development of a targeted response to provide the best recovery of service possible in the disaster area.
For David Maisonneuve, Veolia Foundation Team Leader for the Beirut explosion response, his first view of the city created mixed emotions.
“Primarily great sadness and concern for the people and the families who lost siblings, relatives, their home or their workplace”, he recalls. “At the same time, I felt a strong urge to help - balanced with the need to be focused on how help could best be delivered. In emergencies such as this, many NGOs gather on-site making coordination the key to an efficient response.”
“Another level of sadness hit me while seeing the widespread damage to many of the city’s historic buildings. But overarching all my other feelings was one of great hope. I witnessed a huge mobilisation of Lebanese youth filling the streets ready to help in cleaning and helping. Their strong concern for the situation and their country was heart-warming.”
A veteran responder at previous disasters worldwide, David was part of the Veoliaforce team on the Caribbean Island of St Martin after devastation by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Using his experience as the Foundation’s Drinking Water Network Senior Expert, Beirut’s objective was to establish a work mode with the city’s water company - EBML - with short-, middle- and long-term views. Priorities included reducing leakage and water losses and broader scale support for water management. David and his team also focused on delivering a legacy to Beirut: they trained local engineers using the latest site devices for leakage detection during the mission.
When it came to leaving Beirut, David took with him another mix of emotions. “The welcome of Beirut’s people in the streets was outstanding. They’d stop us and want to know how we were making things better. They’d offer water, coffee and their thanks. It was very moving. I will also always remember the destruction caused to an old house on Gouraud Street. Weakened by the blast, it fell some days after the explosions as people were around helping clear debris. It was next to the water company’s main valve chambers, and we’d pass it every day. The neighbourhood held some moving ceremonies at that site. I will never forget”.
The Veolia Foundation’s assignment was carried out through the Standby Partnership with UNICEF, particularly the search for leaks to organise the repair of the primary and secondary water distribution networks. Coordination is also continuing to increase expertise and resources - an essential step in helping Beirut obtain sustainable access to water.
The children and families affected by the explosions that tore through the city remain in need of crucial support as they rebuild their lives.