Updated: Dec 31, 2020
The shock of the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday has left the general public at a loss for words, and the citizens of the city grieving. Details remain foggy as investigation into the incident continues. This is the story so far:
On Tuesday evening, a fire began at the Beirut port prior to the explosions. There were two explosions that occurred after the fire began, the first being smaller and the second equated to the force of an earthquake. The second explosion was said to have shattered glass for miles in the surrounding area, and the destruction from the blast affected a 6 mile radius around the port. The explosions also resulted in a crater that is 124 meters wide. Due to its close proximity to the ocean, the crater has since filled up with water.
The effects of the explosions are compounding with the collapsing economy and crippling impact of coronavirus on the country. Corruption in the government has already been sighted as an obstacle of recovery for the city. Adding to the need to rebuild infrastructure and care for injured citizens, fears of food insecurity are apparent among citizens and public officials alike.
Reports on the impact of the explosion say that it has caused up to $5 million in damage. Concern over food shortages has mounted as reports of grain silos surrounding the ports were destroyed. Up to 85% of the country’s grain was rendered unusable because of the explosions.
Beyond paying for the repairs to infrastructure, concern over imports and trading is rising. The area impacted is critical to Beirut’s economy as it serves as a trading hub for the entire country. An article from the New York Times supports this: “The port has long been a critical link in the country’s supply chain for goods” (Peltier and Ramzy 20). The areas affected by the explosions are home to more than 750,000 people.
The overall reported casualties as of August 8th are somewhat mixed- the general report is that the explosions killed 158 people, injured over 5,000 people, and have left over 1,000 hospitalized. An estimated 300,000 citizens were displaced as a result.
What Was the Cause?
Speculation over the cause of the explosions is expected for any type of tragedy. What the Lebanese government has primarily suggested is that the fire ignited 2,750 ton accumulation of ammonium nitrate. In small quantities, ammonium nitrate isn’t even dangerous, but with as much as the Lebanese government had stored away, there was always a possibility of a disaster.
The origin of the surplus of ammonium nitrate appears to be from a 2013 Russian shipment that had set course for Mozambique. The ship carrying the ammonium nitrate was abandoned and the chemical was stored in the port until the explosion on Tuesday. As discussion continues on how the dangerous situation came to be, more and more blame is being placed on the Lebanese government.
The world has begun to point fingers at the Lebanese government’s failure to act, blaming the explosions on its officials’ negligence. Reports are surfacing that customs officials sought help with disposal of the ammonium nitrate from the Lebanese judiciary, but never received a response. Anger from other government leaders and the citizens comes from the repeated warnings experts had given Lebanese officials. The stockpile of ammonium nitrate that the country had collected was called into question multiple times before the explosions, but with no reaction from the people in charge.
President of Lebanon, Michael Auon has promised to keep investigations of the explosions transparent. He speculates that there are two potential causes for the incident: either government negligence or a missile or bomb. Other officials beg to differ.
The Citizens Reaction
As a result of the pain and suffering the citizens are currently experiencing, the explosions have produced protests in the last few days. Like the rest of the world, Lebanese citizens are blaming their own government for creating the circumstances that fostered this devastation.
Lebanese citizens have been seen rallying together to clean the streets, sweeping up rubble and debris with brooms. They are sharing their stories through social media and mourning the loss of their loved ones via the internet.
The World’s Response
President of France Macron has announced plans for assisting the Lebanese citizens, while critiquing the failures of the country’s government. According to Macron, changes to their international relations strategy are needed to make up for the corruption and to properly deal with the persistent economic troubles they experience. President Auon has reached out to France seeking satellite images of the port before the explosion, trying to find backing for his speculation that a missile or bomb are to blame.
Similar to France, Italy has also promised to assist Lebanon in their recovery.
The Human Rights Watch has also reacted to the situation in Beirut. Similar to President Macron’s outcries for an end to the corruption, the HRW is suspicious of how fairly the current investigations will play out.
Allahoum, Ramy. Ibrahim, Arwa. Rasheed, Zaheena. “Protests as Lebanon detains 16 over Beirut Explosions.” Aljazeera. Published 6 August 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/lebanon-orders-house-arrest-officials-beirut-blast-live-200805230752876.html. Accessed 7 August 2020.
Peltier, Elian. Ramzy, Austin. “What We Know and Don’t Know About the Beirut Explosions.” New York Times. The New York Times Company. Published 5 August 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/05/world/middleeast/beirut-explosion-what-happened.html. Accessed 7 August 2020.
Qiblawi, Tamara. Reagan, Helen. “Beirut port employees detained in investigation after devastating explosion sparks fury.” CNN. Central News Network. Published 2 August, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/06/middleeast/beirut-explosion-anger-intl-hnk/index.html. Accessed 7 August 2020.