Today, Columbia World Projects (CWP) released a report that calls for significant reorientation of the work of recovery in Rebuilding Beirut: A Roadmap for an Equitable Post-disaster Response.
On August 4, 2020 an explosion at the Port of Beirut, Lebanon wreaked havoc. More than 200 people were killed and over 5,000 were wounded. The force of the explosion damaged 130,000 housing units and caused short-term or long-term displacement of 300,000 individuals. Like many disasters worldwide, the explosion deepened embedded fissures in governance and infrastructure, and amplified social divisions.
A partnership over several months between CWP, Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning and the Beirut Urban Lab at the American University of Beirut examined the post- disaster response in Lebanon, providing recommendations on achieving effective and inclusive recovery. Over 120 experts, drawn from academia, community organizations, government, international development agencies, and the private sector, came together to reflect on strategies and principles essential to an integrated vision for Beirut’s port, the surrounding districts and neighborhoods most affected by the blast, and the city as a whole.
While particular to Beirut, the report’s recommendations highlight examples of post-disaster practices, drawn from across the globe, that aim to mitigate long-standing harms and exclusions during recovery efforts. The report also provides a blueprint that can guide other communities and nations as they work to tackle the consequences of major disasters.
“This report is an extraordinary example of thoughtful solutions-oriented thinking that can be achieved when researchers, practitioners, and community members connect,” said Ira Katznelson, Deputy Director for Research & Engagement at CWP and Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University, “the case of Beirut is an opportunity to truly reimagine how rebuilding and restructuring post-disaster can become a more fair and inclusive process.” He added, “the release of the report is particularly timely, considering the recent catastrophic earthquakes in the region and the need for vigorous recovery efforts to respond to this tragedy.”
The report outlines fairer reconstruction outcomes in Beirut while promoting broader attention to these issues. It builds on the uniqueness of a global gathering of thought leaders prompted to rethink post-disaster recovery responses towards building inclusive governance systems that go beyond disaster response to serve as examples of action in the years to come.
The recommendations cut across five interconnected action areas, including Governance, Housing and Land-use, Port Reconstruction, Heritage Preservation, and Activating Public Space through creative interventions. As a course of action, the report emphasizes two areas: (i) practices supporting the creation of inclusive and equitable pathways for Beirut’s recovery, and (ii) regulatory reforms to strengthen Lebanon’s policy and governance in the post-disaster period and beyond.
Four distinct next steps for the Port of Beirut and Lebanon are suggested in the report:
- orient recovery and reconstruction efforts to strengthen long-term state capacity;
- embed meaningful community engagement across all arenas of planning and implementation;
- prioritize programs and policies that benefit low-income residents and
- work towards more equitable and integrated urban systems; and spend money on the ground, in coordination with civic initiatives.
Nonprofit and development actors, scholars of reconstruction and post-disaster recovery, members of the philanthropic community, politicians, investors, and private sector leaders from Lebanon, the region, and globally can utilize the report as a framework for mitigation of longstanding harms and exclusions in the course of recovery efforts, to prioritize inclusion of community groups in governance processes and strengthen the capacities of the state.
"Columbia World Projects enabled us to engage with a global network of thinkers and practitioners in the months following the 2020 blast,” said Mona Fawaz, Professor at the Beirut Urban Lab. “The participants generously shared knowledge and experiences and brought creative approaches to the table. The workshops infused new dimensions to our local advocacy for more systemic reforms."
Read the report in English or Arabic.
About Columbia World Projects
Columbia World Projects is a university-wide initiative established in 2017 to forge a closer and more useful connection between Columbia University’s vast research capabilities and the needs of the world. CWP mobilizes researchers and scholars to work with governments, organizations, businesses, and communities to tackle global challenges.