Lebanese Mark First Anniversary of Catastrophic Port Explosion Amid Rage at Political Elite
Educated young see no choice but to emigrate
Lebanon on Wednesday marked a year since a devastating explosion ravaged Beirut port, amid a mix of grief and anger over lost lives and rage at the way the government and officials have dealt with the disaster, as the country’s economy teeters on the verge of collapse.
The deadly explosion occurred at 6:07 pm on August 4, 2020, when a stock of ammonium nitrate fertilizer haphazardly stored at a depot in the city’s port exploded and left a massive area of the Lebanese capital looking like a war zone.
The explosion of 2,750 metric tons (3,030 short tons) of ammonium nitrate rocked the capital and produced one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history. Felt more than 150 miles away, it killed at least 214 people and destroyed an enormous area.
But the worst was the deep psychological damage the explosion left in the minds and hearts of Lebanese people.
Family members of those killed and survivors held vigils, prayers, ceremonies and marches in honor of their loved ones lost in the blast.
To this day, the government has yet to produce its final investigation results, and no high-ranking official has been held accountable.
Marwan, a resident of the capital, told The Media Line he can no longer sleep. The father of three children said he still has echoes bouncing in his ears of the sound of the blast.
“I think of what happened that moment every day. All I was thinking of was my family. I’m happy I survived, but I know people who worked in the port who died,” he said.
Lebanese are furious with their politicians, accusing them of treating the country as their private farm.
“They don’t care about us!” screamed Zakaria Hamoud, who accuses many of the top officials of standing in the way of the investigation.
Hamoud told The Media Line that in other countries those responsible would go to jail for a long time.
“They are responsible for the catastrophe that took place on that black day. They are trying to stall. They think they can get away with their crime.”
Amnesty International accuses the Lebanese authorities of “shamelessly obstructing” justice, while Human Rights Watch says they are guilty of “criminal negligence.”
Lebanon is suffering a severe and prolonged economic depression. The crisis erupted in October 2019, when thousands of people flooded the streets demanding profound economic reforms and an immediate end to rampant and systemic corruption and waste.
Nadia Abu Madi, a university graduate in accounting, is frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation. Abu Madi told The Media that she, like many young, highly educated Lebanese, is dreaming about leaving the country. With the lack of job opportunities for them, the “only solution” is to leave, she said.
“I don’t have a future here,” she said. “How can I think of building a life here when I can’t find a job to support myself? There’s no clear way out of this.”
She and many other Lebanese accuse the country’s elites of being the cause of the economic crisis. The currency has crashed, with more than half the country living under the poverty line.
Haneen, a 47-year-old nurse at one of Beirut’s hospitals, told The Media Line the health sector in Lebanon was struggling before the blast.
“Only God knows how we are operating. It’s a day-to-day kind of thing. The corona pandemic has crippled the health system here.”
Hyperinflation has triggered disastrous shortages of medicines, water and fuel.
The World Bank has said that Lebanon is facing one of the world’s economic crises since the 1850s.
Recognizing the severity of the political and economic crises, Lebanon’s former colonizer, France is spearheading efforts to prevent the tiny country from falling into the abyss.
Despite being on the brink of financial breakdown, Lebanon has been without a government for close to a year.
French President Emmanuel Macron has promised assistance to Lebanon; his government pledged emergency financial aid and 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.