Is the Lebanese Red Cross Helping or Hurting Beirut’s Recovery Efforts?

We must reflect on who and what organizations are aiding through relief efforts currently and what we can do to help.

One city. One explosion. Many sorrowful outcomes. This all took place in Beirut, Lebanon, leaving nearly 6,000 injured and 180 dead. This explosion was triggered by a large fire at the Port of Beirut. Shortly after, at around 5:00 PM, the roof lit on fire, and a large explosion occurred, followed by many smaller blasts. According to BBC, within the next 30 seconds, an explosion pushed through the air, sending “mushroom cloud” into the atmosphere and a “supersonic blast wave radiating through the city.” The wave blasted through buildings near the port and throughout the rest of the city, quickly filling hospitals. 

A statement was issued following the explosions from Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud, who predicted that as many as 300,000 people had been made temporarily homeless and that total losses might contribute to $10-15 Billion. The blast not only left citizens terrified and ears ringing but it destroyed an immense amount of infrastructure as well. It destroyed the immediate dockside area, creating a crater approximately 460 feet wide that began to flood with seawater, not to mention the countless residences located near said area. Upon resurfacing survivors and commencing damage control, the cause has been addressed by Lebanon Prime Minister Hassan Diab. He claims the detonation was due to 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely at a warehouse in the port. Although ammonium nitrate is commonly used as a source for nitrogen for agricultural fertilizer, when combined with fuel oils it can create an explosive used in mining and construction. 

Once the event has been examined, we must reflect on who and what organizations are aiding through relief efforts currently and what we can do to help. The UN has launched a $565 million appeal for Lebanon to address their needs. Their four main focuses are food security, health, shelter, and education. Immediate plans include providing hot meals and food rations, providing trauma kits and essential medications, as well as repairing of schools and cash for shelter. The appeal covers the initial two phases of what humanitarians envision will be a three-phase response. As the UN itself put in a news article, the UN and its partners are “already providing immediate assistance under the first phase, which has been swift and wide-ranging. However, they stressed the critical need to move to phase two – namely, recovery and reconstruction – which will cost billions and requires a mix of public and private finance. Phase three will be responding to the pre-existing socioeconomic crisis, which has been worsened by the pandemic.”Additionally, the UNHCR is on site, providing “emergency weatherproofing materials to the worst affected and supporting Beirut to repair and rehabilitate after this tragedy.” They have also set up donations so those who are on the outside of this tragedy can help pay for the rebuilding. While there are many more organizations aiding Beirut, these two are just examples of selfless allies aiding those who are suffering. 

Another organization aiding Lebanon is the Lebanese Red Cross. However, despite all its efforts and humanitarian aid, there is a lot of controversy surrounding whether this organization should be trusted. Today, the American Red Cross is one of the largest charities in the country. It supplies fast acting disaster relief with numerous accounts of selfless acts of aid and assistance to those in need. However, with those stories of gratitude come accounts of scandal and bigotry across the history of the American Red Cross. These allegations stem from statements concluding that the Red Cross has refused to help during one of the biggest disasters America faced, its assistance during emergencies has been called into question many times, and there have been serious questions as to where donations go and why employees steal have been brought up many times. 

Before commenting on the integrity of this organization, we must first go through its history and learn about its founding ideals and how they have changed. Clara Barton was a nurse during the Civil War who later gained fame by giving lectures about her experiences. She was first introduced to the Red Cross when she was in Europe helping out during the Franco-Prussian War. Impressed by the amount of aid supplied and got her own version of the organization in 1881. She was the first president of the American Red Cross and held the reins with an iron fist. Barton insisted on being physically present when aid was delivered and refused to delegate basic distribution efforts to subordinates. In other words, if she was not there, people did not get help. Taking her rules into account, only one disaster could be taken on at a time, causing the American Red Cross to be regularly outperformed by other relief organizations. As time passed, it became clear that this organization was more of a “personal mission” for Barton and her own “outreach efforts.” Due to these findings, Barton was removed from her position in 1904. 

After this, the Red Cross’ response to the Great 1928 Flood and The Great Depression, its segregation of blood donations and refusal to test blood for HIV during AIDS crisis, its corporatization in 2008 and Natural Disaster Response, its handling of Donations, its money management problems and recent management appointees caused a widespread criticism. For example, in the Great 1928 Flood, a huge natural disaster occurred in Louisiana and Mississippi, so the American Red Cross came to help. However, the location of the flood had caused more African Americans to be affected. Instead of providing disaster relief to those who needed it most, the Red Cross decided to follow the Southern racial discrimination of Jim Crow laws. 

Hence, the white people who were displaced were housed in refugee camps run by the organization, while black Americans were separated into the most dirty and dangerous areas. In such areas, if they tried to come and go freely, guards shot them. The only time men were allowed to leave was to work on building the levees back up, but even then they had no choice regarding whether they wanted to help build or not. If the men did not do the work for free, their family would not receive any more rations. The Red Cross even gave food to white refugees first and leftovers (in much smaller portions) to black victims. As if this weren’t enough, if special food arrived, such as canned peaches, black people did not recieve any since the Red Cross thought it would “spoil them” and “teach them a lot of expensive habits.” Overall, it was clear that the Red Cross created slave camps in the wake of this disaster. 

Not only did the Red Cross allow discriminatory practices, but it also responded terribly to Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac. There were internal memos asking for assets to be diverted from disaster relief to “public relations purposes.” Specifically during Hurricane Isaac, supervisors had dozens of empty relief trucks drive around “just to be seen,” as if they were helping out when there was no aid available. Furthermore, during Hurricane Sandy, emergency vehicles pulled out of active service to be used as backdrops during their press conferences. These notions are completely appalling, seeing as aiding those affected by natural disaster should have been of topmost priority in comparison to a press conference boasting about the work being done. It is the Red Cross’ job to aid those in need, and it should focus on fulfilling its duties. There was also a lack of basic supplies, like blankets and food. The Red Cross seemed to be turning into more of an organization that is just trying to maintain their good name without doing any work to help others.

Moreover, the trend of discriminatory acts blew into issues such as the refusal to test blood for HIV during the AIDS, by providing false information simply because testing cost too much and the segregation of blood donations. After an incident in Pearl Harbor, the American Red Cross put out many desperate calls for Americans to donate blood, many people came including Sylvia Tucker. Sylvia was black and came to donate just like the others. However, she was turned away, not because her blood wasn’t healthy, but because of her skin color. All local chapters had received orders from the national office that “barred negro donors.” The need for aid was immensely greater than the racism established and, within months, the policy was dropped. The Red Cross still continued to discriminate, though, by only allowing African Americans to give blood to other African Americans. It claimed that no one would want a poor wounded white soldier in Europe to have to worry that the blood he was being supplied with came from a black person. That blood could have given a soldier another day to live and breath. Is the argument that someone’s skin tone didn’t provide good blood a justifiable argument for a man losing his life? Such issues and responses to disasters by the American Red Cross contribute to questions about the sincerity of their actions.

After reviewing their past actions, it can definitely be concluded that the American Red Cross has both contributed to fast recoveries during disasters while also using questionable methods to do so. The fact of the matter is, everyone is always going to have their own opinion so why don’t we refocus our efforts to the situation in Lebanon. Currently, there are other organizations aiding in disaster relief, but the Lebanese Red Cross is contributing the most. From on-the-ground response to humanitarian needs with 30 teams having mobilized 125 Lebanese Red Cross ambulances to comprehensive aid on the site of the explosion, rescuing and transporting the critically wounded to hospitals and search and rescue missions, what are they not doing? According to the Red Cross website, “to date, 65 people have been transported to hospitals and 185 people have been treated at the scene,” a claim confirmed through other reports.

In America, the Red Cross may not have the best status when it comes to disaster relief but we must focus on the crisis at hand and the change we can create now. With that being said, it seems that in Lebanon, currently, the Red Cross is contributing immensely to the rebuilding and aiding of all citizens everywhere. As long as it continues to do so, we should keep giving it donations, so more people can be rescued and saved. Moving forward, it is unclear if the Red Cross should be supported but as of now, they are proving to be doing some great work and we should commend their efforts.  

Some other organizations to donate to are Impact Lebanon, Live Love Beirut, and the Lebanese Food Bank. Impact Lebanon is a nonprofit organization. It has set up a Just Giving page to support first responders and the people affected by the explosion. It is also working with other charities and organizations to establish how to split resources and donations to make sure help is given in all areas. Live Love Beirut has pooled funds to help support NGOs on the ground. Its crisis relief fund is supporting charities working to treat people affected, the finding of missing people and rebuilding of the city. The Lebanese Food Bank works with vulnerable people and families to ensure food security. 

Evidently, there are many organizations you can donate to, if you are fortunate enough to have the money to spare. Anything helps, and a little cash can go a long way. Any organization that you find, as long as you research where the funds go to, is great, so feel free to do your own research. An important point to address is that we should refrain from signing petitions. Although they may seem like a good idea, the Lebanese government will make sure none of them go into effect, even if all necessary signatures are obtained. The most important note, in avoiding donating to unreliable organizations or taking useless actions, is to do your research. Take the time to find out what is actually happening and who is actually helping. 

You, as a citizen living in this world, are fortunate enough to be reading this article on the internet, on some type of smart device with the whole world at your fingertips. In a privileged society that a lot of us are blessed enough to be a part of, we must recognize that you have to give what you can. There is no room for selfishness, and we must help one another rebuild so that all people on Earth can live peacefully with as few problems as possible but that change starts with you. If you don’t have money to donate, that is okay, but please spread awareness and let those who do have money know that they can use their voices and the power they have to help save someone’s life. It all starts with you and your desire to change the world.

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