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One Year On - the Beirut Explosion


A year after the explosion in Beirut on 4th August 2020, Zeina Salhani, former head of emergency for Humanity & Inclusion (HI) Lebanon, tells her story.

The Head of the HI Emergecny Response Zeina Salhani

The Head of the HI Emergecny Response Zeina Salhani | © Tom Nicholson / HI

Zeina Salhani was responsible for Humanity & Inclusion's emergency actions in Lebanon at the time of the Beirut explosion last year.

What do you remember from August 4th 2020?

What I remember most from the blast is the sound of people in the streets screaming, and the injured people. I’m still so affected when thinking about the families of the people who were killed. We can’t get rid of these memories because these families, the families of the victims, they still don’t have answers to their questions about why this happened.

I usually try not to think back on everything I experienced that day, at the moment of the explosion. For ourselves and our families, we all felt such fear and were in shock. We were all asking what was going on. In reality, it was only a few moments, but we lived through and experienced so much in those moments.

The site of the Beirut explosion
The site of the explosion in downtown Beirut © Kate Holt/HI

What has it been like to be part of HI’s response? 

HI staff were also affected by the situation. We may not have been physically affected by the blast, but we all had at least one family member or friend who was. Emotionally and psychologically, we were very affected. But at the same time, we didn’t have much time to really experience these feelings because we had to do something and take action at that time.

The impact of the explosion was so much more than we could have expected. Health care has been deeply affected, and many hospitals in the area were destroyed. At the time, we were also facing the Covid-19 pandemic, so hospitals were already full and this put additional burden on them.

Being part of HI was an opportunity to help others and to do something. I’m very pleased to be part of this team.

Our main objective was to reach the most vulnerable groups. We know that in emergency situations some people are often left behind such as elderly people and people with disabilities. So, our target was to locate these people and to support them too as people affected by the blast.

How did you respond to the emergency?

We responded in a different way than usual: Instead of asking people to come to the health centers to receive services, we met people in their homes. It meant that they didn’t have to run after HI to receive specific services.

So, we connected with people in their homes, we screened the streets and the neighborhoods and we tried to reach everyone. We asked every person that we worked with and their families about their needs and the priorities. This has helped us to leave no one behind, especially when focusing mainly on children, elderly people and people with disabilities.

Then, we provided these individuals with the services that we already ran within our existing projects such as physical rehabilitation, mental health support, distribution of assistive devices, hygiene and dignity kits.

Nada and her mother, Beirut
Nada, a woman who was injured in the Beirut blast, and her mother. HI's teams provided Nada with physical therapy sessions and hygiene kits.  © Kate Holt/HI

For services that were not provided by HI, we made sure to make referrals and closely follow-up with everyone to ensure that these people received the support they needed.

Our approach was widely accepted. People were saying that it was the first time they received services in such a respectful way from an organization. I was once in the street wearing an HI t-shirt with our logo and someone approached me to say that we had helped him and his mom.

We also collected information from the people that we worked with about their satisfaction with our services and we had very positive feedback. They left wishing that we could provide additional services, saying that the need is there and the demand is there as well.

Are you satisfied by the support of the international community?

We will be having memorials for the 4th of August. This is an opportunity to thank all the donors that have been supporting HI, and other organizations, in our efforts after the blast.

NGOs are the first resource for people now that there are so few government services, and are too expensive for people living in Lebanon. So, NGOs have become the main service providers and support. It is not only because it has been one year since the blast that there are additional needs. With the complex situation in Lebanon, the needs are increasing every day, and need for support is increasing as well.

Date published: 08/02/21

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