LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Scotland’s leading Catholic international aid agency is helping to provide emergency supplies such as blankets, cooking kits, hot meals and help with schooling for thousands of families affected by the Aug. 4 Beirut blast in Lebanon.

The explosion killed over 200 people, injured over 5,000 and destroyed large parts of the city. Around 40,000 buildings were badly damaged, leaving 300,000 people instantly homeless. Over 70,000 people lost their jobs as a result of the blast.

The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF), the official agency of the Catholic Church in Scotland, announced that it will increase its humanitarian aid work in disaster-stricken Lebanon after receiving over £80,000 ($104,000) from generous Scots.

“Before the catastrophe, Lebanon was already a country in crisis,” said Alistair Dutton, the SCIAF director.

“Having survived decades of conflict, it then provided sanctuary to more than 1.5 million refugees who fled from Syria and other conflicts in the region. Refugees now make up more than a quarter of the Lebanese population and were already stretching the country’s schools, medical services and social services to breaking point. The explosion and coronavirus have made a difficult situation even worse,” he said.

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The blast also came as Lebanon faced intense political and economic crisis causing soaring rates of poverty, and at a time when the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic was ripping through the country.

The explosion was caused after nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers which had been stored in a port facility for six years, blew up.

On Tuesday, the state-run National News Agency reported the judge investigating the blast received a report on the incident from the FBI. He is still waiting on reports from French and British explosives experts.

SCIAF is part of Caritas Internationalis, global umbrella group of Church aid agencies, and it is working with Caritas Lebanon to distribute the aid, primarily in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Rmeil and Bourj Hammoud.

Penelope Blackwell, SCIAF’s director of Public Engagement, told Crux that the COVID-19 crisis is complicating the work of the agency.

“Every global crisis hits the people we’re working with in the poorest parts of the world hardest, and the coronavirus is no different,” she said.

“Restrictions around social gathering and changes in people’s financial situation here are having a knock on effect on our ability to fundraise but SCIAF is working hard to ensure poor and marginalized people get the help they need as the coronavirus outbreak takes hold,” Blackwell continued.

“Despite the pandemic, together with our local partners, we are providing urgent food, water and medical assistance to vulnerable people and are putting in place measures to help minimize the spread of the virus and its impact on people’s livelihoods.”

She also noted that many countries in the Middle East are suffering multiple crises, and people are struggling to survive and thrive.

“Each country has its own blend of cultures, faiths and peoples. SCIAF’s work is rooted in Catholic Social Theory, in a respect for the inherent dignity of every woman and man; and a concern for the common good,” she said.

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Lebanon has a unique role in the Middle East, with a large proportion of its population consisting of Christians, mostly Maronite Catholics.

After the blast, Pope Francis declared Sept. 4 an international day of prayer for Lebanon, sending his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as his delegate to Beirut.

Parolin spoke of the “the unique value of Lebanon, part of the Holy Land that was visited by Our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, and by his mother, beloved by all Lebanese, the Holy Virgin Mary.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome