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The blast that blew apart Beirut

19 August 2020, Voices from the Field

Can Lebanon survive? 

In early August, two massive explosions devastated Beirut. The second explosion destroyed almost everything within a 5km radius, and caused great damage beyond. At least 170 people have died, and more than 6,000 were injured. Offices, houses, schools and hospitals have all been badly damaged. Hospital and ambulance services quickly surpassed their ability to respond. Initial estimates suggest that up to 300,000 people are currently without homes, including 100,000 children. 

The devastation occurred as Lebanon was also grappling with rising COVID-19 cases. The country has had nearly 10,000 cases and 105 deaths, a number which is set to grow as the consequences of the explosions continue to affect people’s lives and livelihoods.    

Save the Children teams are on the ground supporting children and families through the recovery. In this first month we are focused on immediate life-saving support including psychological first aid for children, identifying separated children and reuniting them with their families, providing temporary shelter for those who have lost their homes, and distributing food and hygiene kits. In the months and years to come, we’ll still be there, helping families pick up the shattered pieces of their homes and lives. 

Lebanon on a knife edge

Nour Wahid, Save the Children’s training and communications advisor in Lebanon, was there when it happened. She says the explosions could not have come at a worse time.


Nour Wahid saw Beirut explode around her.
Photo: Save the Children

Even before the blasts, Lebanon was teetering on the edge. Rising unemployment, the devastating effects of COVID-19, and a crumbling healthcare system were already apparent. “The socio-economic fabric of Lebanon has rapidly deteriorated,” says Nour. “Protests on the streets, despair over the exchange rate and the financial crisis, problems at the banks, robberies everywhere. The price of food, rent and other necessities soaring.

“Just one week before the explosion, Save the Children had released new analysis showing the collapsing economy had pushed more than half a million children in Beirut into a struggle for survival.

In the greater Beirut area, 910,000 people, including 564,000 children, did not have enough money to buy basic essentials including sufficient food. Everyone was already in a heightened state of alert. Without intervention, we were already worried about seeing children dying of hunger by the end of 2020.

Nour Wahid

Our supporters are helping help the children of Lebanon get the best start with quality education. Through ongoing programs, we aim to increase access to quality, inclusive and safe education for the most vulnerable girls and boys. This includes early childhood care and development, basic literacy and numeracy and remedial support. 

We have also been working to support the huge number of Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon. We’re working and advocating to give children in refugee and host communities alike the chance to grow up healthy, educated and safe. All these programs and more, are only able to happen with the invaluable assistance of our supporters. 

Save the Children responds

Children have been badly affected by the blasts. Many children have been separated from their parents, while they recover in hospital. Many have lost homes. It will be months or years before their schools are rebuilt. 

Some children have been so badly affected that they have been unable to speak, while others cannot sleep. Save the Children staff have heard of children who are afraid to go into the room they were in when the explosion happened.


This pop-up tent provides a safe space for children in affected neighbourhoods to play and deal with some of their emotions following the explosion.
Photo: Tom Nicholson / Save the Children

 

In the first days after the disaster, we were there helping children reunite with their families, making sure they had something to eat and somewhere to stay. 

In the months to come, with help from our supporters, we’ll be there too, helping children regain a sense of normalcy with at-home learning, especially for those injured children who may not have the chance to return to school for a long time. 

The psychological impact of such a crisis is massive. Children have and will continue to bear emotional scars from such a humanitarian disaster for a very long time. 

To help them through and give them a sense of hope for the future, we need to do all we can to make sure they are not the forgotten victims of this tragedy. 

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