by Ayman Ahmed
Even the grim statistics fail to accurately reflect the scale of devastation from Beirut’s multiple explosions on Tuesday August 4.
As of the time of compiling this report (4 am August 7 in Beirut), 157 people are reported dead and dozens are still missing.
At least 5,000 people have been injured and more than 300,000 people are homeless Beirut.
This is a massive number given Beirut’s population of two million. Lebanon is also looking after about one million Syrian refugees.
Already in the grip of a severe economic and financial crisis—the Lebanese pound has lost 98% of its value—and afflicted by the pandemic, this latest disaster could not have come at a worse time.
The Lebanese government has announced the arrest of 16 people accusing them of mismanagement and frozen their accounts and assets.
For several kilometers around Beirut port, entire apartment blocks have been destroyed.
As I drove around the area, there was no building left standing or intact. All glass in windows has been shattered.
Shards of glass are everywhere in the streets.
Protests erupted yesterday (August 6) as people angry at the government’s mismanagement of the country’s affairs were teargassed by security forces.
Dozens of arrests were made.
People's anger at the grim situation is understandable but the protests are politically motivated.
These are orchestrated by the "Future Movement", linked with former prime minister Saad Hariri, a Saudi-French-American stooge.
Hariri and his predecessor were responsible for the mess Lebanon finds itself in today. Yet, ironically, his party is directing people's anger at the new government of Prime Minister Hasan Diab who assumed responsibilities only in January 2020.
The prime minister has announced fresh elections so that the new government would have the people's mandate to deal with the crisis situation effectively.
On the flip side, even amid the devastation, people are out in the streets with brooms to try and clean-up whatever they can.
Let us briefly recap what happened on Tuesday and its background history.
Sparks from welding works led to explosion in a warehouse where fireworks were stored. The fireworks were imported by Hariri supporters to use against security forces during protests.
The fireworks explosions led to a massive explosion in a warehouse that had stored 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate since June 2014.
Numerous reports urging previous governments to address the danger of storing such a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate, a hugely explosive substance, so close to populated areas went unheeded.
The ammonium nitrate was impounded from a Maldovan-registered cargo ship that was sailing from Georgia to Mozambique when it docked at Beirut port in September 2013 because the owner asked the captain to pick up some heavy equipment from Beirut and deliver it to Jordan before proceeding to Mozambique.
The ship had listed its cargo as "agricultural products". Ammonium nitrate can be used to make fertilizer or bombs!
When the Lebanese port authorities inspected the ship, they found it had numerous technical problems. It was old and in need of major repairs.
The ship owner also refused to pay port fees. The ship was detained while the crew left the vessel after about a year.
The owner abandoned the ship.
Its cargo was unloaded and stored in a port warehouse in June 2014 where it lay, largely unprotected till the devastating explosion of August 4.
The ammonium nitrate explosion looked as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped on the city.
Nearby wheat silos were also destroyed wiping out all grain that would surely now result in even more bread and food shortages.
Tiny Lebanon produces nothing. Everything has to be imported including glass for buildings. Given the devastation at the port that is used to import 80% of the grain, the situation is absolutely dire.
The central bank has virtually no foreign reserves.
People are so angry that they do not care about the government’s declaration of two weeks of mourning and promises of a full inquiry to hold those responsible to account and punish them.
Demands for the government to resign will not solve Lebanon’s problems. They are too deep.
The government would be happy to wash its hands of this disaster. Besides, the current government is not responsible for the mess. Its predecessors are entirely to blame.
Amid pledges of help from around the world, Iran and Syria have already sent plane loads of supplies with promises of more to come.
Three plane loads of medicines, food and other essential items have arrived in Beirut from Iran.
Syria has opened its border to the people of Lebanon as well as its hospitals since Beirut’s hospitals simply cannot cope with the number of injured.
Iraq announced it was sending five plane loads of food and other essential supplies.
There have been promises of help from around the world with French President Emmanuel Macron arriving in Beirut to tour the area himself.
The European Union announced it will provide 33 million euros in emergency aid.
France has promised an international aid campaign. Whether it will materialize quickly enough or fall off the radar screen when the next disaster strike somewhere else is yet to be seen.
As of now, the Lebanese people are without food, medicines, shelter and perhaps except for a few friends (Iran, Syria, and Iraq), all alone.
Will Lebanon as a country survive?
(Crescent International's special correspondent filed this report from Beirut. Ayman Ahmed is not his real name to protect his identity)