A week after Beirut’s tragic explosion, the damage has turned out to be even greater than expected. And not only with regard to the destruction of buildings and homes. “Children are also severely traumatised”, says Najla Chahda, country director of Dorcas Lebanon and member of the Christian emergency aid cluster.
“Sorry to be so emotional, but when you think about the people…” Chahda normally speaks quickly, but today her sentences are slow and heavy. A week after the ferocious ammonium nitrate blast that tore through downtown Beirut, killing over 170 people and injuring 6,000 more, “many people now realise that they have lost almost everything.”
At first many people were searching for their family members in the rubble and taking care of thousands of injured people. From one moment to another 300 thousand inhabitants of Beirut became homeless. “It now appears that many houses and buildings that are still standing are so badly damaged that they are no longer safe or habitable. On Monday, everyone who was sheltering in a hotel had to leave immediately. According to foreign experts, these buildings were about to collapse.”
Only now has the psychological trauma inflicted on Lebanese residents become evident. Even for aid workers like Chahda, who has lived through her own trauma, the violence of this explosion was unprecedented. “Me and my generation lived during the war. We were used to standing up and starting over when a bomb went off. But this was so much worse. What we see is that people are really, really traumatised – especially children. When they hear a loud noise next to them, they are immediately frightened and put their hands over their heads. People cry when they talk to you, including men. One of the Syrians who works here on the street keeps repeating: “I don’t want war again, I don’t want war again.”
“Besides repairing shelter and providing food, psychological help is one of the three priorities for the emergency aid cluster”, says spokesman Siebrand Wierda. Dorcas, EO Metterdaad, Red een Kind, Tear, Woord en Daad and ZOA work together in this cluster. “There has already been a strong response from our supporters. So far we have received 250,000 euros”, Wierda continues. That money is urgently needed in Lebanon. Work that already focuses on the poorest in affected neighborhoods has expanded greatly. “But we must continue to focus on the most vulnerable – refugees living in struggling neighbourhoods, migrant workers and poor Lebanese – without making any distinction,” said Wierda.
When asked about her personal focus, Chahda mentions prayer first. “Please pray for us, keep talking to us. We need your prayers, even though we know we are not alone. During this time, we have to strengthen our faith. Many people have lost loved ones, and so many children have been hurt.” Chahda belives that emergency humanitarian aid must be managed by the European countries themselves to ensure that it gets to where it needs to be. “Do not only focus on large organisations”, she pleads. “But also on the smaller ones like ours as we have many local contacts.”
Najla Chahda would like to explicitly mention one example of humanity, from Jan Waltmans, Ambassador of The Netherlands in Lebanon. His wife Hedwig Waltmans-Molier died on Saturday from the injuries she sustained during the explosion. Chahda: “We are eternally grateful to the Dutch ambassador. He inspired all of us by giving his wife’s kidneys to two Lebanese after she passed away. Despite his own suffering, he helped us: the people of Lebanon. We will never forget that.”
12 August 2020