“I will be better if someone took this explosion from my heart”: impacts of the Beirut explosion
Speaking to the Feminist Humanitarian Network members from Palestine, Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, the USA, Australia, and the UK, Dr Olfat Mahmoud, General Director of the Women’s Humanitarian Organisation in Beirut, shared her experience of the explosion, and the challenges she wants to see addressed through the response:
When the explosion happened, I felt like it was an earthquake. I was lucky my windows were open, otherwise I would have lost all my windows and doors. The whole building was shaking – I thought it was going to fall down. I went out to the balcony and saw that there was smoke everywhere. It was only then that I realised it was an explosion.
I was born in wartime – I have been through a lot. But this one shook me. I heard that 60-70% of the explosion went out to sea, otherwise Beirut would be flat. This makes you feel… shaken.
It is very hard to deal with it in your mind - how many innocent people were killed or wounded. Right now, I want to talk more about the psychological problems that we are experiencing as a result of the crisis. Many people have major psychological impacts from this, but many people hide their emotions.
Because I am a refugee myself, and I work with refugees, I want to highlight the issue of refugees. People in the camps here are living in houses that were about to fall down before the explosion – and now it’s even worse. People are scared. An event like this brings the trauma that people were already experiencing back again.
Right now, people are handing out food – and it’s desperately needed. But if we don’t face the psychological problems that people are experiencing, they will become a huge problem. We need to take action at the right time.
Since October last year, we have had the revolution in Lebanon and many factories and companies closed up. Covid-19 increased the problem. We have a very, very bad economic situation in Lebanon that everyone is affected by. At the same time, we have many refugees in Lebanon and the majority are not allowed to work. The economic situation impacts them significantly.
People are working for daily wages, which means no income for their families. This adds to the trauma people are experiencing due to the explosion. Up until now, people have been managing. But this crisis puts me down – is putting me down.
There is a sentence I heard from a child who is five years old – and it is as she said, “I will be better if someone took this explosion from my heart.”
The Feminist Humanitarian Network is a global collective of local and national women’s rights and women-led organisations working in humanitarian contexts in the Global South, international NGOs, academic institutions, and individuals.
Dr Olfat Mahmoud’s organisation works with Palestinian refugees living in camps in Lebanon’s capital. Women’s Humanitarian Organisation is a member of the Feminist Humanitarian Network. In the wake of the explosion in Beirut on the 4th of August, Olfat and other Feminist Humanitarian Network members from across the globe came together to hear from Olfat, and, under her leadership, to provide support to her and her organisation as they lead response efforts to the crisis.
Having shared her experience and the challenges that refugees and communities in Lebanon are facing, Olfat led a discussion on different paths she and her organisation can take, seeking support from members who had experienced crises with similar impacts, and led psycho-social interventions. Women-led organisations in Lebanon need funding to lead responses. Refugees living in camps need access to phones, need access to basic services.
Members from across the Network offered their support: the provision of services through their helplines, linkages to organisations they are connected to specialising in psychosocial responses, and the sharing of experiences from different responses. Collectively, members of the Feminist Humanitarian Network are taking action to support our members in Lebanon and those that they work with.
A recent strategy review undertaken by the Network produced the following statement on its role and way of working:
We are made up of diverse members working together with one voice. Together, we are powerful. Amongst us there is not an individual standing tall – we are a collective, strengthening each other through collective power and action. We support each other professionally and emotionally. We check in with each other. We have built a unique and safe space, enabled by our feminist principles, and consequently, we have trust – in our space and in each other.
Summarising the session on the Beirut crisis, and reflecting on the Network’s role, Dr Olfat Mahmoud said: “Really it's true - when we feel we are supported, we feel we are empowered.”
Our response to the Beirut explosion is an example of how the Network works together to support its members leading humanitarian efforts. This World Humanitarian Day, the Feminist Humanitarian Network is supporting its member organisations in Lebanon, through solidarity and collective action.
The Feminist Humanitarian Network is seeking support for the Women’s Humanitarian Organisation and other members in Lebanon who are leading response efforts in Beirut. Please contact the Feminist Humanitarian Network if you are able to provide financial or technical support.