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August 6, 2020

Beirut blast

Editorial

 
August 6, 2020

Lebanon and its capital Beirut have seen many years of war and devastation in the past. However, for a considerable period of time, the country has known some semblance of peace. This has been broken in the recent past by an unprecedented economic crisis that has pushed tens of thousands of people into poverty and triggered large-scale anti-government protests, the most severe unrest Lebanon has seen in more than a decade. The coronavirus pandemic has also worsened matters in a situation where unemployment was already rising and the country was looking at how to return an enormous amount of debt. Despite it all, though, Lebanon has persevered.

On Tuesday, however, Lebanon was hit by a tragedy of a completely different kind. At least a hundred people are believed killed and thousands missing after a huge explosion devastated the port area of Beirut. The mayor of the city also says over 250,000 people may have been rendered homeless. People in Beirut and across Lebanon have been shaken by this disaster, photographs of which have left even the most stoic people reeling in shock. Aid workers from Turkey and other neighbouring countries have begun to arrive to help with the search through huge expanses of rubble. President Michel Aoun has said the blast was caused by some 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse. The material is used as fertilizer and also as explosive. There is no evidence yet of criminal intent or a deliberate act of sabotage.

As the Lebanese cabinet meets and an emergency is declared, the country will observe three days of mourning. Eye witnesses speak of cars and even entire buildings being lifted into the air by the force of the blast. Clearly a large-scale investigation will need to be carried out. The explosion will also add to the anger of the Lebanese people, who were already unhappy with the handling of the economy by their government, the disappearance of the US dollar from the market and accusations of scams conducted by the State Bank of the country to pay back debt. We do not know yet if the explosion will have any political repercussions. The country’s High Defence Council has been assembled following the blast. The disaster at the port is however a reminder of the crises Lebanon is already facing and the conflict it has encountered in the past. Beirut once again resembles a war zone and it will take expert help which has begun to come in from around the world to return the city to anything resembling normalcy. Only after the immediate aftermath is dealt with can we say if there will be further shockwaves in the form of heightened protests and instability in a country that has been struggling for months to regain calm and order. For now, we only hope that the people of Lebanon are helped out in any and all manner by the global community.