At 18:07 Tuesday, August 4th, a series of explosions ripped through the city of Beirut. The blast originated at the port and gutted buildings, flipped cars, and shattered glass in a ten-mile radius throughout the densely populated area of Lebanon’s capital city. As of August 24th, some two-hundred people were reported to have lost their lives and six-thousand people were injured. Three hundred thousand were displaced, their homes wrecked in the explosion that caused an estimated three- to five-billion dollars in damage. This tragedy has shaken Lebanon down to its core, threatening the very survival of the nation.
This catastrophe creates an enormous humanitarian need for the Lebanese people. The port, Beirut’s main connection to the outside world, was obliterated. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed. Three hundred thousand people out of the capital city’s approximately three-hundred-and-sixty-one-thousand residents face homelessness. Rescue workers searched tirelessly for those trapped under rubble and hospitals overflowed with the wounded. Citizens took to the streets to begin the massive task of clearing and rebuilding. France, which has close historical ties with Lebanon, has led the way in sending aid to Lebanon. French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut soon after the blast and is organizing an international conference to help. Since then, the European Union has released thirty-three million euros towards rebuilding Lebanon, but many worry that the money will fall into corrupt hands.
Lebanon not only faces vast humanitarian and economic issues, but also political turmoil. An investigation into the cause of the explosion revealed that twenty-seven-hundred tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate had been stored in a warehouse at the port since 2014. The dangerous substance was originally seized from a cargo ship that was carrying it illegally but was then stored for six years despite the enormous safety hazard. Sixteen individuals were arrested in connection to the blast following the investigation, but many place the blame on the government as a whole, citing endemic corruption and mismanagement for the tragic explosion. Anger at the Lebanese government burned all across the city in the days following, sparking protests calling for the government to resign. However, protests quickly dissolved into riots as police and protestors responded with mounting violence, wounding seven-hundred-and-twenty-eight and killing one police officer. Prime Minister Hassan Diab responded to the pressure stating, “I said before that corruption is rooted in every juncture of the state but I have discovered that corruption is greater than the state.” He and his cabinet resigned, and the President accepted his resignation the Monday after the protests, August 10th. However Diab’s government will act as a caretaker as the nation works to replace his government.
This tragedy does not stand alone for the Lebanese. In the words of Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of the news analysis podcast “The Briefing,” “It becomes the exclamation point at the end of a long sentence of failure that has marked Lebanese history now for decades.” Economic crisis and political turmoil have troubled Lebanon ever since its civil war ended in 1990. For many, the explosion recalled dark memories from Lebanon’s civil war, pushing them to finally leave the country for good. According to Jawad Adra, the founder and managing partner of Beirut-based information consultancy firm Information International, they are already seeing a mass exodus from Lebanon. However, many leaving are affluent families with dual nationalities, meaning that leaving is a privilege not all may afford. After the government resigned, protestors called for President Michel Aoun’s resignation, but as the President himself pointed out, this could lead to a fatal power vacuum. Although the current government may be corrupt, Lebanon is not able to elect new leaders at this time. Lacking the funds, organization, and stability to even begin to address the aftermath, Lebanon’s future is uncertain. What then will happen to the many left behind, whose entire life was shattered in a few seconds? That is the giant question the explosion leaves behind.
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