Lebanon in crisis

On the afternoon of 4 August 2020, an incident occurred at the main port of Beirut, effectively destroying Lebanon’s capital. The explosion has been considered as one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history, with its impact being felt in Turkey, Syria and parts of Europe. 

It has been confirmed that the cause of the explosion was 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely in a warehouse. A fire started in Warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was being stored, along with a stash of fireworks. According to Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International, the fire started due to workers welding a door at the warehouse. Sparks from the welding ignited the fireworks stored with the ammonium nitrate, triggering a cataclysmic explosion, which had devastating effects on Beirut and its surrounding areas. 

The explosion killed over 170 people, injured more than 6000 and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless. Multiple sources have reported that immediately after the incident, many inhabitants of the capital were seen roaming the city, covered in blood, seeking help from anyone who could provide it. 

more than half of Beirut’s hospitals are considered to be “non-functional” following the explosion.

The explosion also caused irreversible damage to infrastructure. Cars were overturned and buildings practically disintegrated. The majority of, if not all, glass and windows within 10 kilometres of the explosion shattered. Grain silos were destroyed, further increasing food shortages caused by coronavirus and the economic crisis, as Lebanon imports almost all of its wheat. 

In addition to the destroyed infrastructure around the capital, museums and numerous landmarks, such as the Sursock Museum, Sursock Palace and the National Evangelical Church, also suffered severe damage. According to the World Health Organisation, more than half of Beirut’s hospitals are considered to be “non-functional” following the explosion, which has severely impacted Beirut’s casualties and patients in the midst of a global pandemic and national emergency. Beirut’s hospitals and health centres had already been struggling due to the amount of patients being treated for coronavirus, as well as dealing with equipment shortages — a consequence of the economic crisis. 

Even before coronavirus and the explosion, Lebanon was already on the brink of collapse, experiencing the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, with more than 40% of the population experiencing unemployment and over 50% now living below the poverty line. The Lebanese Lira has been devalued by 85%, completely devastating the economy further and essentially starving much of the population, as they can no longer afford even the most basic food staples, such as bread. 

The economic loss following the explosion is estimated to be over £11 billion, with residential and commercial properties, such as hotels and restaurants, making up the bulk of insurance claims. However, they are very unlikely to be paid out. This deprivation caused outrage and despair amongst the Lebanese people, triggering a call for change. 

From tax evasion and mismanagement of funds, to the refusal to be held accountable for the suffering of its people, the Lebanese government has failed its country time and time again.

Since October 2019, crowds of Lebanese citizens marched onto the streets demanding reformation of the corrupt ruling government, however saw no result. On 10 August 2020, a mere six days following the explosion, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his government resigned following escalating anger over the warehouse explosion, with many protesters saying the incident was due to negligence by the government. The protests initially began to object to an increase in taxes on gasoline, tobacco and Whatsapp phone calls, but then grew to include criticism of the corrupt government, who had failed to provide basic needs, such as electricity and water, to its people. 

Due to the government being in so much debt, it was cheaper to keep the ammonium nitrate in a warehouse rather than sell or dispose of it. Many have argued that this negligence is what caused the explosion. 

From tax evasion and mismanagement of funds, to the refusal to be held accountable for the suffering of its people, the Lebanese government has failed its country time and time again. There is an uncertainty that now lies ahead – no stable ruling, a high level of poverty and a city left in ruins. Protesters are still taking to the streets, fighting for their basic human rights and for the punishment and removal of those accused of corruption; although they have been oppressed and beaten, their spirit is admirable, more alive and stronger than ever before.

By Dana Issa

Image: by Eusebius Commons via Flickr

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