In addition to the economic and health crisis that had shaken Lebanon for several months, there was a humanitarian crisis. The double explosion of the port of Beirut a month ago brought Cedar’s country to its knees. In this context, children, especially young girls, are suffering from a multidimensional crisis.
One month after the explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon is still in shock: 191 dead, more than 6,500 injured and one city cleared. The tears have not run out, the wounds have not yet healed and the excavators continue to search the rubble in an attempt to find the last one that is missing. Hopes are diminishing day by day, but the traumas are more present than ever.
Especially in children. They witnessed the noise, the shaking, the images of the cloud of smoke sent in a loop; they saw the blood flow, sometimes their own or relatives’. The leaders of the associations remember today that the priority is to provide psychological support to the youngest, the most emotional and vulnerable.
“There is a psychological emergency to deal with. The trauma is enormous and the children are among the most affected,” Marianne Samaha, program manager for France24, explains to France24.NGO Plan international in the Middle East.
“My son is afraid to dream”
At the time of the explosion, James, 5, was stunned. Agape. Not a tear, not a sound came out. His older brother, Joseph, 8, started screaming. For a month now, Joseph has not eaten, nor does he sleep: he is “afraid to dream”, France24 testifies about his mother, Yasmina Farah, a lawyer at the bar and the author in Beirut. “Her 9-year-old friend Yasmina is no longer leaving her home, she no longer wants to leave her mother: she is afraid she will die,” she says.
“The children want to protect us and we, the parents, we try to restore the normality of their daily lives but without success,” the lawyer continues. 41 years old, she grew up during wartime. “I lived with the bombs, the protection, the insecurity. After 1990, I lived the good life and buried the traumas. I did not think my children would know it. This explosion murdered their innocence.”
In a study conducted by Unicef in mid-August, half of those surveyed said that their children had behavioral changes or signs of trauma or extreme stress after the explosions. “These behaviors and symptoms can include severe anxiety, silence or withdrawal, nightmares and sleep disturbances, and aggressive behavior,” says Unicef.
“The kids have lost all layers,” explains Marianne Samaha. According to Unicef, about 100,000 of them were directly affected by the explosion and nearly 80,000 children were left homeless and therefore displaced. Many were separated from their families and still are. This increases their vulnerability, especially among young girls.
Gender inequality is likely to increase
“Displaced girls now live in shared housing or in unsafe buildings, without windows, door locks or electricity at night,” Marianne Samaha continues, fearing that young girls “are more likely to be sexually abused.”
Many are deprived of schools – 178 schools with 85,000 pupils are still deteriorating – and to support their families’ needs, girls are also exposed to an increased risk of financial exploitation. “Gender inequality is likely to increase; girls are particularly exploited in domestic work, as many restaurants, shops and offices have been destroyed,” the humanitarian added.
Finally, the overpopulation of health services makes it difficult for girls and women to access sexual and reproductive health services. At least six hospitals and twenty clinics were affected by the explosion, making them partially or completely inoperative, a worrying situation especially for pregnant women.
“Rebuilding the city and the souls”
Plan International and a host of other NGOs and volunteers have been mobilized in the field to deal with emergencies since 4 August. A huge wave of solidarity was created from day one on the streets of Beirut. “We are in action. This is what allows us to continue living,” continues Marianne Samaha, a native of Beirut. “But now is the time to think about the future, to consider the reconstruction, the resilience and the stabilization of the country,” she insists.
“For that, we must take care of and educate our children. They are our future,” she insists. Between the economic crisis that has driven 40% of Lebanese below the poverty line and the destruction of schools, many children are at risk of not returning to school. For those who will be able to study again, the cost of buying books and supplies for a single child is now two months of the average Lebanese salary.
So many have chosen to leave. “My best friend went to Dubai. She thinks there is no future here for her children,” testified Yasmina Farah, disillusioned. However, she, who has dual French-Lebanese nationality, cannot help but leave her country. “Is it faith, delusion, denial, hope? I do not know. But I do not seem to be able to leave. Beirut needs us. It will be difficult but we must stay there for our children, for the future of the country. We must stay here to rebuild the city and rebuild souls. “