Six months on from the explosion that killed 200 people and injured 6,000 more, serious challenges still face Beirut.
On August 4 of last year, a 2,750-tonnes’ cargo of ammonium nitrate (a highly volatile substance that under the circumstances had an the explosive power of more than a kiloton of TNT) exploded after a fire broke out in the warehouse where it had been sitting for six years in the Beirut city port. People felt the devastating blast hundreds of miles away. The exact cause is still under investigation.
Since the explosion, charitable organisations have helped the city get back on its feet.
Youth volunteers have renovated nearly 700 houses and assessed the damage on a over 1,000 more. With local organisation Caritas Lebanon CAFOD distributed over 150,000 hot meals and food packages to families in need.
House of Peace, a Lebanese organisation, have set up a self-care hub offering coping strategies to support aid workers traumatised by the explosion. The secular women’s organisation Association Nadjeh has helped 3,000 families by giving out money to those affected by the blast.
Nohad Al-Mir, a resident of Karantina, an area severely damaged, described the day of the incident and how Nadjeh had helped her get through the aftermath.
In an otherwise “unremarkable” Tuesday in August, she was visiting a store to get some household items.
“Suddenly, I heard the sound of a blast,” she said, “The glass in the store began to shake. I ran away but I could not pass the road. So, I tried a different route, but debris from buildings blocked the way, and I was shocked at the blood that stained the pavements.”
When she arrived home, she found it “as it still stands today, in ruins”. Now living with her brother, she returns home every day to check on her house.
“Association Najdeh provided me with financial assistance that will help me to buy a refrigerator and gas. The foundations of a new start, and for that, I am very glad,” she explained.
In the face of these successes, citizens of Beirut have had to cope with a strict lockdown imposed on the 14th January to reduce a spike of COVID-19 cases. Under the lockdown, residents aren’t permitted to go out for groceries and must rely on food deliveries.
CAFOD’s Emergency Programme Manager Hombeline Dulière, who lives in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, noted the “devastating” situation in Lebanon.
“With the announcement that the country was going into full lockdown – with even essential food shops closing and a strict curfew in place – people were beginning to panic,” she said.
The measures intended to help people have exacerbated an already fragile situation, she explained.
“Currently, the country is going through a massive economic crisis with 1.7 million people living under the poverty line and some 22 per cent of the population is expected to fall into extreme poverty,” she continued.
She went on to describe a deteriorating sanitary situation “as people struggle to access the hygiene products they need,” while the healthcare system continues to face serious strain “as more and more people are infected.”
“Many have no choice but to work to feed their families,” she said, “but with the current lockdown, this seems an impossibility.”
Local organisation are committed to continuing work to support people in the coming months and years. You can find out more about their work: cafod.org.uk/Beirut