Breaking News Update – Beirut Blast

Beirut’s blast that tore through the capital on the 4th August continues to unearth the Lebanese government’s fragility during a crisis. Four weeks later and here’s what we know: 

  • Two blasts erupted in the capital. The second and more powerful blast was allegedly caused by unsafely stored Ammonium Nitrate (widely used in fertilizers and mining explosives, although it is not explosive on its own).
  • Safe storage of chemicals like Ammonium Nitrate has been debated for years, especially since 2014. Follow the timeline of events that led to the explosion here and visual impact here.
  • At least 181 people are confirmed dead, 6,000 injured, and 300,000 left homeless
  • The international community continues to pour millions of pounds of humanitarian aid into Beirut – list of donations here.  

So what’s really going on?

  • To understand why the evolving narrative is so significant, you’ll need a deeper knowledge of Lebanon’s political and economic “rule”. Read here for more. 
  • With over 300,000 citizens displaced and some of the highest income inequality in the world, many citizens fear that further corruption and vulnerability is to come 
  • Lebanon’s ruling class (the incumbent Lebanese government) were the same officials in power throughout the duration of the initial unsafe storage of Ammonium Nitrate. Despite the threat of conviction, no perpetrators have yet been brought to justice.
  • International pressure has not led to new elections, an independent government nor actionable change towards justice. Hope that this will change with time dwindles as the conviction for the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others in a suicide bomb back in 2005 led to only one conviction of a minor Hezbollah figure, just a few weeks ago- full history here.
  • According to documents obtained by the Washington Post and interviews with officials involved in the blast investigation 

“Days before the massive explosion this month at Beirut’s port, there was an unusual flurry of activity around Warehouse 12, in which a stockpile of 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate had been sitting, unclaimed and unattended, for over six years. Acting on an order from Lebanon’s top judge, three workers were dispatched to fix a broken door, seal off a gaping hole in the warehouse’s southern wall and ensure that all the other doors were locked tightly. The work continued until the afternoon of the blast” 

  • The interviews suggest, the possibility of theft rather than safeguarding against an explosion appeared to be the foremost concern – full interview here 
  • Protests have erupted all across Lebanon as the Lebanese people look to voice their frustration and disappointment almost a month after the initial explosion

This story is complex and continues to unfold – Lebanon was already in an economic crisis and battling COVID-19 when this latest disaster struck. Despite the media attention and visitation from President Macron pressing for reforms, it has not led to a significant change on the ground from the ruling elite. 
One glimmer of hope is the resurgence of community spirit. Volunteers are flocking to the streets to clear rubble, build homes and serve at makeshift camps. In the absence of government-led initiatives, people are coming together in the hopes of restoring some kind of normality. As Beirut volunteers steer the relief effort (full story here) – what can we expect next? NPN will continue to follow this story.