By: ASHLEY HOPKINS
On August 4, 2020 at approximately 6pm, the first blast of the Beirut explosion was felt. The first explosion caused a fire, triggering a second more powerful explosion that could be felt over 100 miles away in the Medeteranian. The explosion registered as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake and produced several large mushroom shaped clouds. The blast was also felt in the German and Norwegian embassies, with one employee of the German embassy being killed in the accident. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed the death on August 6, saying her death was one of “the consequences of the explosion in her apartment”. Within seconds from the initial blast, buildings were destroyed leaving more than 300,000 residents without homes, over 6,000 injured, and over 150 citizens left dead. The catastrophe is the result of approximately 2,750 tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate in the main port of Beirut.
Many parts of the country are receiving only two to three hours of electricity a day, street lights are out, causing chaos on the crowded streets. The collapse of the banking system is playing a huge role in the downward spiral of the economy in Lebanon, as the government, citizens, and banks are all running out of foreign currency. The current collapse is the consequence of government corruption, economic mismanagement, and overspending. It was predicted by the World Bank that 45% of Lebanon’s citizens are expected to be below the poverty line in 2020, that statement was said before COVID-19 and the Beirut explosion. Experts are predicting a downfall similar to the Venezuela crisis that began in 2014, having essential product shortages, rising inflation, and lawlessness in the streets.
Since October 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost 80% of its value, with 60% of that being in the past month. “It’s an economic crisis, a financial crisis, and now this horrible explosion,” said Tamara Alrifai, a spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Medicine is running low, and hospital staff are being laid off because there isn’t enough money to pay them. After the explosion, the hospitals were filled to capacity and because of the lack of medicine and staff, a triage system had to be put in place. “Lebanon is no longer on the brink of collapse. The economy of Lebanon has collapsed,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.
Tourism was another role in Lebanon’s GDP, accounting for almost a fifth in 2018 when over 2 million people visited the country. This explosion on top of the political issues and the COVID-19 pandemic creates circumstances that don’t welcome tourists. According to Pierre Achkar, head of the Lebanon Hotel Federation for Tourism, “It’s a disaster for Lebanon.” Occupancy rates at the open hotels had already dropped to 5%-15% because of coronavirus and political issues within the country. Achkar also told news agency NNA that the explosion damaged 90% of Beruits hotels.
Many european and Gulf countries are sending people and supplies to help manage the fallout of the explosion. French President Emmanuel Macron made his support known by making a visit to the country and putting out statements saying that he would provide medication and food, as long as it didn’t end up in corrupt hands. He later told reporters that he would help organize an international conference to raise money for Lebanon, promising “clear and transparent governance, whether its French or international” to make sure the money is “directly provided to the local population, the NGOs, and teams on site that need it.” The UK is also lending help to the devastated country, promising a 5 million dollar aid package as well as a Royal Navy ship and rescue workers.