People in Need in Lebanon: two months since the Beirut explosionOct 6, 2020
It has been two months since the explosion in the Beirut port on 4th August that claimed the lives of over 200 people and injured over 6000. Within five kilometres of the explosion site, residential and commercial areas were destroyed or severely damaged, leaving 300,000 people homeless and dozens of businesses damaged or destroyed. Among the worst-hit areas are Mar Mikhael and Karantina. The once thriving hub Mar Mikhael has been decimated.
This once-touristic hotspot, filled with cafés, bars, yoga studios, barbers, boutique hotels and more, now carries a post-apocalyptic feel. In Karantina, a poorer, less-touristic semi-industrial district at the end of Mar Mikhael, close to the port, is home to many refugees, migrant workers and low-income Lebanese families. Here, many households have been seriously affected by the blast. With the loss of small businesses in the neighbourhood and great swathes of the port industry, many living in Karantina have also lost their livelihoods and access to income.
In the aftermath of the blast, People in Need’s priority was to rehabilitate damaged homes. Focussing on these worst-hit areas, PIN together with PIN SK and the Green Helmets set to work to fix up homes; replacing and repairing doors and windows so families could return quickly and live safely. During this period, PIN together with PIN SK and the Green Helmets fitted 371 homes were with new or repaired doors and windows.
Ola lives with her husband and her two daughters, Farah and Sama, in Karantina. Originally from Syria, they have been living together in Karantina since the war broke out in Syria in 2011. Ola describes they experience when the explosion hit. “I heard the first blast, it was an unusual sound so I rushed to the balcony to bring Farah and Sama inside to their room. Then, I went back to the kitchen and the second explosion hit.”
As she walked from her daughters’ room back to the kitchen, the second explosion happened. It completely destroyed the wall of the girls’ bedroom and blasted doors and windows from their frames. In the weeks that followed, the Green Helmets came to take measurements for their broken windows and doors and replaced them quickly. During the explosion, their metal front door hit Ola in the face, leaving her with a five-inch scar down her cheek and broken teeth. “There was blood everywhere, but I didn’t feel anything. I ran to the children, they were fine. There was glass everywhere and they were thrown by the blast, but they were not injured. Thank god. I quickly dressed them and we went downstairs to find help.”
Three-year-old Sama, who is whipping up an imaginary cake passively listening to her mother recount the explosion, chimes in with what she remembers. “Blood here, here, here. Glass here and here,” she says pointing around the room and picking at her feet. Ola looks on, worried about how much they remember and how her daughters will process what happened to them that day. Ola’s face is healing well, their doors and windows have been replaced, but their psychological recovery will take a long time.
Whilst working with the Green Helmets to rehabilitate homes, PIN and PIN SK worked with a local partner, Bekaa Youth Association, to provide medical assistance to over 3800 people after the blast. During the explosion, three Beirut hospitals were badly damaged and the medical system was quickly overwhelmed with injured patients. Being able to provide medical assistance with a mobile medical team, people were able to receive on-site care and medication, as necessary.at
Also through local partners, PIN and PIN SK, simultaneously provided food and hygiene assistance to the most vulnerable in the worst-hit areas. Given the large elderly population resident in the area, there was a need to provide such immediate assistance to help people meet their basic needs whilst they tried to come to terms with the full impact of the blast and get back on their feet. PIN and PIN SK were able to provide food to thousands of people, including 500 daily hot meals for elderly persons with special health needs. Hygiene items for nearly 350 families with young children or elderly members were also distributed.
The impact of the explosion has exacerbated the country’s already-dire economic situation. Living conditions across the country have deteriorated significantly over the past year, as a result of the depreciation of the Lebanese currency, hyper-inflation and COVID-19 restrictions. As of August 2020, nationally, for all the population including Lebanese and refugees, more than 55% of the country’s population was living under the poverty line and struggling for bare necessities.
Businesses in the port-side area, including Mar Mikhael and Karantina incurred huge losses, and many lost office-space, supplies and equipment. In order to boost and restore livelihoods in the area, PIN started looking for ways help and partnered with a local organization, SHIFT, with expertise in this area. In the coming months, PIN and SHIFT will be supporting business owners regain their livelihoods after the blast, by distributing 20 grants, either in the form of cash, materials or equipment, according to their needs.