SEATTLE, Washington — On Aug. 4, all eyes were on Lebanon when a massive explosion occurred in the port city of Beirut. The cause of the explosion seems to have come from a large amount of stored ammonium nitrate. The explosion ultimately resulted in 203 deaths, 6,500 injuries, $15 billion in property damage and left an estimated 300,000 citizens without homes.
For a state in the midst of several crises, most notable is the ongoing economic decline in Lebanon. The impact of the recent explosion was devastating. This, coupled with the current COVID-19 pandemic raises concerns for Lebanese citizens who will need sufficient resources to endure the current pandemic.
Since the blast in Beirut, the number of COVID-19 cases in Lebanon has risen to a total of over 125,000 cases with nearly 50,000 people actively infected. This can be attributed to hospitals being overwhelmed by an influx of injured citizens and the loss of countless homes in which to safely quarantine in.
Lebanon’s financial meltdown has left many hospitals underfunded. This resulted in hospitals’ limited access to reliable electricity and sufficient personal protective equipment. The healthcare sector has become more dependent on foreign aid, which left Lebanon’s government with even fewer resources. Following the blast in Beirut, the country’s prime minister Nassif Hitti resigned from his position, citing his fears of Lebanon becoming a failed state.
Mismanagement Leads to Under-preparation
Years of negligence from Lebanon’s ruling elites have left the country unprepared to manage the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut and exacerbated the spread of COVID-19 in the country. For the last three months, with limited access to imports, the rapid decline of Lebanon’s unstable economy accelerated.
Ever since the 1990 Civil War, the state became increasingly dependent on imports, while exporting very little. With the rising prices of imports, the country’s currency has continuously been devalued and Lebanon’s middle class has dwindled. This caused the standard of living for the Lebanese people to worsen consistently, with dependable resources such as electricity or safe drinking water only being accessible to the few citizens who are able to pay exorbitant fees.
The pandemic alone worsened income inequality within Lebanon, with lockdown procedures limiting income from key economic sectors such as retail and construction. Many citizens face poverty and are dependent on foreign aid. These citizens are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because they often lack access to preventative resources against the spread of the coronavirus.
Most vulnerable are the 1.5 million refugees living below the poverty line in impoverished communities. Food security has been poor, as the blast demolished 15,000 metric tonnes of wheat and Lebanon’s main grain silos. Ships carrying imports the country relies on are forced to dock elsewhere, raising the already steep food prices. Now more than ever, Lebanon is dependent on support from the international community.
Lebanon has received billions in aid since the 1990s. However, funds have often been spent inequitably through means of mismanagement and government corruption. That is why it is important to donate through trustworthy organizations or ones that work through United Nations agencies.
The International Medical Corps has been supporting overwhelmed hospitals in Beirut, assisting on the ground while also providing necessary supplies. The global humanitarian aid organization frequently responds to disasters, providing emergency medical services, training, relief and other related services. Donations go directly to response efforts in Beirut.
Another on the ground effort is the Lebanese Food Bank, which is working to fight the rise of food insecurity following the destruction of Lebanon’s primary grain silo.
For years, the Lebanese people endured the instability of their state, victim to circumstance and crisis. The impact of the explosion in Beirut has ensured their recovery to be a long journey, one hopefully guided by the support of humanitarian organizations around the globe.
– Ida Casmier