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UN special envoy on poverty visits Beirut blast survivors

United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter has told Al Jazeera during a visit to the Lebanese capital that survivors of the Beirut port blast last year “feel very much abandoned”.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter has told Al Jazeera during a visit to the Lebanese capital that survivors of the Beirut port blast last year “feel very much abandoned”.

On Monday, the UN expert, alongside local research group Public Works, visited residents and survivors in Mar Mikhael and Geitaoui, two of the most severely damaged neighbourhoods in the Beirut Port explosion.

“It’s, of course, striking that many public services are difficult to provide,” De Schutter told Al Jazeera after visiting a family in Geitaoui.

Residents complained to De Schutter about the lack of viable government social protection programmes, inconsistent cash distribution from the army, and mismanagement after the blast where dozens of NGOs and individual initiatives scrambled to help residents.

“One NGO given to my area said they could only fix windows, even though what I needed was three doors to be fixed,” one resident told him.

On top of that, many are concerned about their inability to pay rent and skyrocketing utility costs, especially those who lost their businesses in the blast or have significant medical costs for their injuries.

“We have zero trust in the government,” an elderly resident said.

More than 200 people were killed and 6,500 were wounded in the August 4, 2020, Beirut port blast when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored unsafely at the port for years, detonated. The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded and destroyed entire neighbourhoods.

De Schutter landed in Beirut this weekend for a two-week assessment of how the Lebanese government has responded to the country’s critical economic crisis, and the role international organisations have played in trying to alleviate poverty.

About three-quarters of the population lives in poverty, and about a quarter of the population was not able to meet their “dietary needs” by the end of last year, the UN said at a recent press conference.

According to its Emergency Response Plan for Lebanon for the next year, the UN needs $383m in order to assist 1.1 million people in need of food, education, healthcare, sanitation and child protection.

Meanwhile, the majority of about one million Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in extreme poverty. At least two-thirds of Syrian refugees are now skipping meals, as food prices have gone up by about 628 per cent.

The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic crisis is among the worst worldwide since the mid-nineteenth century.

Petrol price hikes and electricity outages paralyse much of public life, while the government struggles to implement emergency social programmes aimed at temporarily supporting millions of people.

De Schutter this week will also visit the northern city of Tripoli and the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp and will speak with local and national government authorities, residents and civil society groups. He will present his findings at a press conference scheduled for November 12.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.

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