One month after the Beirut port explosion: UNICEF helps rebuild shattered lives

For every family in Beirut on August 4, there is a story. For those on the explosion’s front line, these stories are often delivered in parallel with tales of desperation, of need, and often of hope

Simon Balsom
Port Beirut After the explosions
10 September 2020

The Beirut port explosion of 4 August 2020 caused nearly 200 deaths and over 7,000 injuries. Its effects touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the city - most profoundly felt by vulnerable families and their children. In the immediate aftermath of the impact, UNICEF set in motion the first phase of its emergency response. Now UNICEF, one month after the explosion, shares individual stories of some of those whose lives were impacted by its devastating power.

For every family, there is a story. For those on the explosion’s front line, these stories are often delivered in parallel with tales of desperation, of need, and often of hope.

8-year-old Kevin lives with his parents in the Beirut neighbourhood of Geitawi. One month on from the explosion he remarks, “We jump when we hear a sudden noise now. When a door is slammed I jump. My brother gets scared too. I hug my baby brother to calm him down”. His mother adds that “my children are very traumatized. It was already a very hard period for us in Lebanon. Schools were closed because of coronavirus, and everything in the shops has become very expensive. Since the explosion we’ve received help from international organisations, but still the fear and panic are strong. I hope the schools will reopen soon – with precautions - this is the right place for children to be. We must find a way to get our children back to school.”

Although not intended as a replacement for formal education, UNICEF has helped establish a series of safe parks for children physically and emotionally affected by the explosion. They provide a space where UNICEF’s local partners can focus on local children and help build resilience while providing psychosocial support too. Kevin attends the safe park in Geitawi. There are additional parks in Karantina and Basta.

Abdulkarim, 10 years, at Al-Karantina public garden

In Karantina, ten-year-old Abdulkarim also laments his lack of schooling. “I can’t remember when I last went to school, and now that my school is destroyed, I have no idea when I will be able to go again. Coming to the safe park helps – with the team from UNICEF we play games and we learn some easy things together. It’s not the same as school, but when you’ve lost as much as we have in this neighbourhood, something like this becomes really important”.

“My children are very happy to go to the garden where UNICEF have set up a safe space"

His mother agrees; “My children are very happy to go to the garden where UNICEF have set up a safe space. They’ve found this past year very difficult – it wasn’t easy to study online using only their cellphones. Now, after the explosion, what they need is some stability”.

Karantina is home to many of Beirut’s most vulnerable families and children. It is also one of the areas most heavily damaged by the force of the port explosion. Rebuilding will be difficult for all, and perhaps impossible for some.

Abdulkarim’s father is very direct, “We’re living below the poverty line now. I don’t even have money to buy my children manoushe [a traditional Lebanese sandwich] and, although I have been given twelve boxes of food aid, I don’t have the wood to light the oven to cook anything. I’m very tired of living like this, I don’t know how we can continue”.

For all who experienced the explosion, its effect will take a long time and a great effort to overcome. For the city’s children, it may take longer than most.

Hanan, 8 years, at Al-Karantina public garden

“I feel different after the explosion”, explained 8-year-old Hanan. “I’m always scared now, and I still dream about the feeling of the blast. It keeps me awake at night. When I’m scared, I wake up and I go to my mother, she reassures me and tell me it’s ok, that nothing is going to happen. She hugs me and we sleep.

“Now at least I have the safe park to come to"

“Now at least I have the safe park to come to. There are always people from UNICEF here, and they play games with us. They also teach us about coronavirus safety – I always wear my mask, wash and sterilise my hands, and sometimes wear gloves too!”

Following the August 4 explosion, UNICEF was quickly on the ground in Beirut alongside its local partners to provide practical assistance by reconnecting essential water supplies to hundreds of homes, as well as delivering 10,000 hygiene and baby kits, and by providing psychological support to known families as well as to new. As the first phase of emergency response concludes, UNICEF will continue to meet other urgent needs of Beirut’s people as they rebuild their lives alongside the reconstruction of their city.