• Race to a Cure Authors

Lebanon: Current Events Recap

On August 4th, the Beirut Port, which is located in the capital and most populated city of Lebanon, experienced a large fire that triggered two explosions. Lebanese citizens witnessed an enormous mushroom cloud and a supersonic blastwave that hurtled across their city. With the strength of a 3.3-magnitude earthquake, its effects stretched all the way to Cyprus, which is located 200 km away from Beirut. The explosion has led to 200 deaths, 5000 casualties, and has left over 300,000 people homeless and displaced. Furthermore, the total losses are estimated to be approximately $10-15 billion USD.


Photo of the explosion in Beirut on August 4th, 2020 (BBC News).


What caused the explosion?


The explosion was caused by 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been deposited in a warehouse at the port in 2013. The material came from a freighter that made an unscheduled stop in Beirut that year due to technical difficulties. Despite the known dangers of ammonium nitrate, the cargo was unsafely stored in a warehouse when it should've been either resold or disposed of. This raised the concerns of several Lebanese custom officials, who reportedly wrote letters to the court at least six times. However, their requests to move the dangerous material were ignored, resulting in the fatal explosion that took place just two weeks ago.


Bird's eye view map of the damage caused by the explosion (BBC News).


What's happening in Lebanon now?


Lebanon is now wavering by a thread as it struggles to repair the consequences of the explosion. Even before the destruction took place, the country already faced a tenuous situation due to a number of other issues, including extensive debts, government corruption, COVID-19, and the weight of supporting over a million Syrian refugees. The citizens of Lebanon are angry at the lack of accountability and transparency from their government, and protesters have taken to the streets following the incident. Dr. Manal Abdel Samad, the minister of information, said Lebanon would enter a two-week state of emergency. Furthermore, security forces now have the authority to arrest anyone involved in the storage of ammonium nitrate at the port.


Lebanese protesters storm government ministries as anger grows (TRT World).


We hope this article acts as an educational source on Lebanon’s current events and provides you insight on the political, economical, and social implications of the explosions. As informed young people, we hope that even in the comfort of your own homes, you will be able to use your voice and power to support others in these difficult situations.


Additional insights


Political


To provide some political context: prior to the Beirut explosions, the Lebanese government struggled with corruption, faced a stagnant economy, and was stuck in a political deadlock. Since October 2019, many citizens have been protesting to address the mismanagement in their country.


On August 10, 2020, after the Beirut explosions, the Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned. In his resignation speech, he "accused the political class of trying to shift blame for the country’s ongoing economic crisis and corruption onto his cabinet" (New York Times). He denied this blame and countered that corruption was in fact “rooted in every part of the state.”


The country's government is now under a caretaker role, meaning that there will be a temporary government until the new cabinet is appointed. Currently, president Michael Aoun has the authority to appoint a new prime minister without an election, but so far no action has been taken. The resignation has had little effect in terms of suppressing the protests, and citizens are still pushing for change. Despite the last resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in October 2019, the political scene has remained largely unchanged, with powerful politicians still reigning.


"At the root of the problem is a system built to balance power between rival religious and ethnic groups rather than to produce an effective government.”

- Maha Yahya, director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center


Economic


The government of Lebanon has called on other countries for aid in recovering from the event. Several countries have responded, including France, Saudi Arabia, the US, and the UK. Together, they have sent field hospitals, medical assistance, and donations to Lebanon in an effort to ease the shattering impacts sustained. Canada recently pledged another $25 million in aid on top of an initial $5 million.


“There is overwhelming grief for those lost, and those who survived now need enormous support. Many were left with life-changing injuries, and for others this blow on top of so many other crises is too much to handle alone.”

- Basma Tabaja, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross


However, there is significant concern that the corruption plaguing the Lebanese government will interfere with donations, preventing them from reaching those who need them most. There have been reports of authorities conducting inadequate searches for missing people, and dozens of citizens still have unanswered questions regarding loved ones gone missing on the date of the explosion.


Social


International organizations, local volunteers, and NGOs such as the Red Cross have dispatched their own relief efforts to Lebanon in the form of food, shelter, rescue operations, and medical treatment. Unfortunately, in the midst of all this, COVID-19 still rages on, with cases spiking in Lebanon since the explosion due to protesters and general chaos. With the current government still in power, the health of the citizens are at great risk, and the country's unresolved crises threaten to crush the little stability left.


“Even when the government was in full control, it did not take care of its citizens, leaving much of the responsibility to civil-society groups and international donors."

- Paula Yacoubian, Lebanese politician


How to help


Many across the world have paid tribute to the victims of the explosion. If you're interested in donating to relief efforts, click here for a list of organizations through which to do so. In the meantime, stay safe and send your thoughts and prayers to Lebanon. As the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and we hope that you share these resources within your communities to bring awareness and action to the recent events in Lebanon.


Sources


BBC News. (2020, August 11). Beirut explosion: What we know so far. Retrieved August 17,

2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53668493

Boynton, S. (2020, August 13). Canada adds $25M more to Lebanon aid after deadly Beirut blast

for $30M total. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://globalnews.ca/news/7264676/

canada-beirut-aid-30-million/

Hubbard, B. (2020, August 09). Beirut Blast Hit 3 Disparate Neighborhoods. Now They're United

in Rage. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/09/world/

middleeast/beirut-explosion-victims-neighborhoods.html

Hubbard, B. (2020, August 10). Lebanon's Government Resigns Amid Widespread Anger Over

Blast. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/10/world/

middleeast/lebanon-government-resigns-beirut.html

Hubbard, B., & El-naggar, M. (2020, August 08). Clashes Erupt in Beirut at Blast Protest as

Lebanon's Anger Boils Over. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/

2020/08/08/world/middleeast/Beirut-explosion-protests-lebanon.html

New York Times. (2020, August 05). Beirut Digs for Explosion Survivors as Casualty Totals Rise:

Live Updates. Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/05/

world/middleeast/beirut-lebanon-explosion.html

Simons, M., & Yee, V. (2020, August 08). As Lebanon Reels, Long-Awaited Hariri Assassination

Verdicts Loom. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/08/

world/middleeast/hariri-assassination-trial-hague.html

Specia, M., & Chehayeb, K. (2020, August 11). After the Beirut Blast, Lebanon's Whole Cabinet

Quit. Now What? Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/11/

world/middleeast/lebanon-government-resigns-explainer.html


Article contributors: Katrina Artes, Sherilyn Wen