The following is the final part of our series on how LibanPost kept working after the August 4th explosion in Beirut, Lebanon.
The explosions that tore through Beirut on 4 August caused Lebanon’s postal service, LibanPost, around US$120,000 worth of damage, according to CEO, Khalil Daoud.
The blast only served to exacerbate LibanPost’s economic woes.
Lebanon’s economic collapse has devastated the country, with the local currency losing over 80 per cent of its value within the year. But while it has torn apart the country, it was clear to see coming.
“From January we informed our shareholders that we will be facing a serious loss this year,” Mr Daoud said. “It will be the first time. Despite being a private organisation, we have been profitable for the past 16 or 17 years. We were really an exception in the country. We started a diversification plan long ago and this is what has kept us afloat.”
The projection that they would face losses was not only from looking at the economic forecast for the country, but also a decision that not a single employee would be laid off or see a salary cut: no matter what happens to Lebanon’s economy.
“Either you have to take a loss or you have to reduce salaries and lay off employees. So since we have taken the decision to stand by our employees, we knew that we would face a loss.”
“We’re one of the few companies still maintaining in the market today and yet we feel guilty that we are not capable of doing more. With the devaluation of the currency, even when you are paying salaries in full the equivalent of $1000 a month a year ago, today is worth less than $200.”
The physical and economic damage, Mr Daoud says, was the least of his concerns after the blast.
“Obviously, the biggest loss was the loss of one of our employees. We have an employee that used to work at the post office inside the Central Bank of Lebanon and I was made aware that she was celebrating her wedding anniversary on that day in particular, and she was one of the unfortunate casualties of that explosion, alongside her husband, leaving two children behind,” he said.
“Then you have a number of injured people from the LibanPost community, some that were seriously injured, others that are more fortunate. There were some that we didn’t hear from for days.”
While still trying to account for employees, Mr Daoud says his attention quickly had to turn to the logistical nightmare in front of him. Three hundred thousand clients had just been left homeless, branches were destroyed and damages needed to be assessed before working out when they could open again.
Over the past two years, LibanPost had acquired five caravans for the purpose of deploying mobile post offices. Originally, the idea was to have them located in seasonal areas of the mountains or to take advantage of festivals. Now because of the tragedy, they were able to be put into use in the destroyed areas of Beirut so that service wasn’t suspended for clients in those areas.
Fifteen post offices, out of a network of 110 were damaged with three branches severely damaged.
LibanPost had also previously set up a “home system” in which everything that can be done at the post office, can be done online or over the phone. “All of that helped in taking over the lack of presence in the usual system processes.”
LibanPost was offered “a lot of help” from international postal organisations, Mr Daoud said. “We declined because I think the priority has to go to NGOs and to people that are really in need. We would manage to recover the financial losses that we are facing, but those NGOs are desperately in need.”
To do their bit for the city, LibanPost is going to produce a stamp that will cost the equivalent of $7 USD, the proceeds of which will go to the Lebanese civil defence - a volunteer organisation that makes up the country’s firefighters, ambulatory services and rescue teams.
“Every time there is a drama in Lebanon, these people are at the forefront trying to help, but despite being an entity within the public administration, they’re neglected and do not have the means or support,” said Mr Daoud.
Mr Daoud’s house was totally destroyed in the explosion and the shattered glass left him needing medical attention at hospital.
“It’s part of the day to day life of any manager: you cannot afford to have emotions overwhelming you. So I was injured, I went to the hospital and one hour later I was back home and I had two concerns: the company and the employees and to assess the damages that had happened.”
Reporting by freelance journalist Abbie Cheeseman, Beirut, Lebanon.
Photo credit: LibanPost