Tragedy Strikes in Lebanon
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
On Tuesday, the 4th of August 2020, a colossal explosion occurred in Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, leaving the city and the country in shattered pieces. This Middle Eastern country’s economic, political and health systems were adversely impacted prior to the pandemic and the explosion has exacerbated the already detrimental state of the nation, a country on the brink of collapse.
(BBC News, 2020).
The explosion took place at a warehouse next to Beirut’s seaports. Some bystanders had witnessed slight blasts followed by so-called ‘fireworks sounds’. Shortly after, a massive explosion, which created a mushroom cloud into the sky and a supersonic blast wave emanated throughout Beirut.
That second blast caused widespread damage to buildings, houses, and hospitals. According to the New York Times, “ The streets were littered with glass, rubble, and cars that had slammed into each other after the blast. The buildings that remained standing looked as if they had been skinned, leaving hulking skeletons.” Furthermore, the blast demolished Beirut's main grain silo at the port and the harbour, which has impeded channels for imported food. The head of the Lebanese Red Cross organisation declared, "What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe. There are victims and casualties everywhere." With 135 people confirmed dead and at least 5 000 injured, the rate of casualties continues to increase.
There have been conflicting statements concerning the cause of the explosion. It was initially assumed that the blast was initiated by firecrackers stored in the warehouse. The next day, it was publicised that 2 750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored at the port for the past six years. Prime Minister Hassan Diab further elaborated that the ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material (used in agricultural fertiliser and bombs) was stored without safety measures being adhered to.
In 2013, this exceedingly treacherous material was brought in by Russian cargo ships en route to Mozambique, however, it was abandoned in Beirut due to financial constraints. The Director of Lebanese Customs, Badri Daher, warned of the ammonium nitrate’s "extreme danger" for years, especially considering that it was left at the port. He further exclaimed, "I will not rest until we find those responsible for what happened, hold them accountable, and impose maximum punishment. It was unacceptable that so much ammonium nitrate had been stored which will endanger the safety of citizens." In addition to the aforementioned cause , experts and officials are further investigating the blast, as some scientists hypothesize that the explosion was caused by something more than just ammonium nitrate.
Prior to this seismic explosion and the Covid-19 pandemic, Lebanon faced various political upheavals and was in the midst of the severest economic crisis in its history. Lebanon’s currency had significantly plummeted, which resulted in individuals' investments being locked up in unreachable bank accounts. The inflation has been a major setback to the economy too, as half of the country’s population lives near or below the poverty line and 33% of citizens have lost their occupational remuneration.
Lebanon has faced economic challenges, but also political uprisings. People took part protests in order to address corruption, as government officials were using their authoritative positions to augment themselves through back-alley deals and bribes. By January 2020, Lebanese politicians still had no plan to soften the blow of the economic recession or reduce corruption. With the government adopting a nonchalant attitude, apprehension has taken over for many citizens, as they fear the country will not be able to survive the aftermath of the current crisis.
In addition to economic and political challenges, Beirut’s health system was in a grave state due to the pandemic. According the Health Minister of Beirut, Hamad Hassan, “We need everything to hospitalise the victims, and there is an acute shortage of everything.” With the explosion aggravating the situation, hospitals are overwhelmed and some are dilapidated. This subsequently led to Lebanon pronouncing a two week state of emergency.
Government officials should guarantee that their economic, political and health systems will be restored in order to secure the citizens of the country. It is imperative to implement precautionary procedures concerning any explosive material to thwart impending disasters. Lebanon desperately needs meals and medical and monetary assistance in this time of distress, more so, Lebanon needs hope. Let us be the beacon of hope by contributing to the various relief initiatives. Donate to the Red Cross foundation and create awareness in your own small way.