On the 4th August 2020, a huge amount of stored ammonium nitrate exploded at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon’s capital. The explosion caused widespread devastation, injuring over 7,000 and killing over 200 more. The explosion saw people’s homes and livelihoods destroyed in an instant.
As the eldest of four sisters, Deebeh had moved to Beirut, from Zahle in the Bekaa Valley four decades prior seeking employment. She began working at a factory when she was only eleven years old as her father died and she could not bear to see her mother carry the burden by herself. Since then, she has lived in the same small flat in Burj Hammoud district of Beirut.
On the day of the explosion, Deebeh was walking home from work. As she turned a corner, she heard a loud earth-shattering sound.
“I quickly turned my back to the sound, closed my eyes and faced the corner. When the explosion happened, I felt my soul was blown out of my body. When I turned around, there was a ringing sound, and everything was covered with dust. People were screaming and pleading. Destruction was everywhere,” she says. “This was an earthquake. I can only call it as an earthquake, but the difference was that it was man-made. Nature did not bring this upon us.”
Debeeh ran home as fast as she could, screaming as she scaled the stairs and praying that her neighbors were safe. As she tried to unlock the door to her apartment, she found that the explosion had dislodged the lock, but with help from her neighbours she was able to get inside.
When Deebeh entered her home, she found that the bathroom door had been knocked out, the wooden window frames and glass within them were all broken. In the kitchen, the stove and the washing machine had been flipped over and the cupboards and drawers hanging off their hinges. Following the explosion, Habitat for Humanity assessed the situation alongside its partners to find shelter solutions where over 10 billion dollars’ worth of property damage had been caused. With a plan in place, we were then able to begin supporting the community to rebuild their homes.
“Many agencies and civil societies surveyed the area, all asking the same questions and promising to come back and help. No one did, except you.” Says Deebeh, referring to Habitat for Humanity and Catholic Relief Services, who had joined forces to respond to the Beirut Port explosion and oversee repairs in homes such as Deebeh’s.
Restoring Homes in Beirut
Today, the windows and doors in Deebeh’s apartment are fully refurbished, the plumbing in the bathroom and kitchen has been fixed and a water heater has been added.
“What do I say about the team? It was as if they were repairing their own homes. They did their work with so much dedication. I have never seen anything like this. They genuinely cared,” says Deebeh. “My only wish is that they teach officials in Lebanon to have this attitude.”
Lebanon is facing a multi-faceted crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic complicats matters even further. Approximately 1 million of the country’s 6.8 million people live below the poverty line. Lebanon is host to an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, placing extreme pressure on essential services. At the end of 2019, the country went through an economic and financial crisis resulting in the government resignation. Economic and political chaos sent poverty levels up and placed extreme pressure on vulnerable families struggling to secure food, water, electricity, healthcare and education.
Abed and his family are another of the many families that Habitat for Humanity have supported following the explosion. When Abed came home from work, he found his front door blown out of its place. As the windows were closed, the pressure of the explosion had shattered all of the glass. He cleaned up as much as he could that night and slept in the house alone. He got very sick that night and had to crawl to the bathroom. Since the blast, safety and security have been restored for Abed. Broken windows have been replaced and doors have been fixed. Now Abed’s family can stay at home without the need to relocate.
The deadly blast ripped through Beirut on August 4, 2020. Officials estimate that at least 170,000 people in the Lebanese capital live in homes that still need to be repaired or reconstructed. Habitat for Humanity and partners are supporting families whose homes suffered minor or moderate damage. The two partners also provide both financial and technical assistance to a selection of local nonprofit organizations focused on shelter rehabilitation.
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