BEIRUT, Lebanon — An explosion rocked Lebanon in August 2020, a country already on shaky ground. The explosion of over 2,700 pounds of ammonium nitrate in the capital city’s port, which had been sitting unattended for years on end, has only furthered the crisis of management that government officials caused. The country was already financially struggling. Moreover, like many places around the world, it was dealing with the terrible COVID-19 pandemic. However, the relationship between Lebanon and the international community may be key to the country’s ability to contend with the challenges that the Beirut Explosion and COVID-19 have presented.
Yara Kaadan is a sophomore at the University of California, Davis. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Kaadan said that like many Americans and members of the international community of Lebanese descent, she is deeply worried about the effects of the tragedy on family members who still reside in Lebanon. Her family is safe, but she is still very nervous about what could come next for those she loves.
“So all my family is, like, safe and alive… not everyone can say the same, you know, but a lot of homes and like workplaces are destroyed, which right now isn’t something that the Lebanese people can really afford to have happen to them,” Kaadan said
In this statement, Kaadan is referring to the economic and leadership crises that have been occurring in the country. Over the last few years, trash piled up on the streets of the country because the government had tied itself up in arguments surrounding trash collection, high unemployment, inflation, increased government debt and existing financial collapse. Moreover, random power outages are common resulting from an energy corruption scandal and tensions from the fragmented ethnic and religious groups have been rising.
However, Kaadan also wants the international community to see Lebanon as a place that runs counter to the many stereotypes that Western media perpetuates about the Middle East.
“People just kind of expect this stuff from there, but Lebanon, like, relatively speaking, compared to the countries around it, is pretty progressive, and they’ve done a really good job, building themselves up from the Civil War from ’75 to ’90,” Kaadan said.
As Kaadan was referencing, Beirut went through a period of massive reconstruction post-Civil War. It restored many historical sites and tried to reinvent itself as an economic power. It experienced relative peace and prosperity for a number of years until financial troubles started to arise in the 2010s.
Kaadan told The Borgen Project that the international community needs to turn towards more humanitarian solutions instead of militarized ones when it comes to helping countries in tumult like Lebanon.
“I think listening is a big thing,” Kaadan said. “Because when a government is as tyrannical and corrupt as the one in Lebanon is, I think it’s really important for surrounding countries and people and countries all over the globe to listen and recognize what’s happening and to interfere in a way that’s actually helpful because the US has a really bad track record of running to military forces… a lot of Lebanon is already militarized. There are military stops every few kilometers. And I think the thing that a lot of people need to understand is help doesn’t just come via the army, it needs to come with health care workers and donations for supplies and food to feed the people and clean water. Because that’s not something that a lot of people have access to over there.”
The Lebanese Red Cross
When it comes to specifics, Kaadan recommends the Lebanese Red Cross as a place for concerned citizens of the international community, specifically Americans, to donate to. She also asks for people beyond the working class to put their dollars into helping the situation in the country right now.
According to Kaadan, “…right now with Lebanon, It’s really bad. And we know that one person could donate a fraction of their bank account and help this crisis in an astronomical way. But once again, the burden of helping others follows on to the working class. We’re asking everybody to donate. When in reality, it’s great that people are donating and it’s great that people are caring. But we need to target those who can do more.”
The Lebanese Red Cross is a volunteer-based organization with a mission of granting relief to those experiencing disasters, as well as working towards preventing, preparing and responding to emergencies. It currently runs medical programs that are and will be extremely necessary during the aftermath of the explosion such as emergency medical services, blood transfusion services, disaster management and social services. It is a completely volunteer-run organization, born out of providing medical care to Lebanese citizens who need it the most.
Lebanon is also experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases in Lebanon. On August 17, 2020, the country reported its highest ever daily spike in confirmed cases, at 456. One of the challenges to dealing with the pandemic is that the recent blast put a few of Beirut’s hospitals out of operation. Meanwhile, many other hospitals are overloaded with those the blast injured. Some hospitals are only partially operational due to blast damages. New COVID-19 patients may struggle in search of necessary medical care as many beds at their local hospitals already comprise of blast patients. Additionally, a quarter-million Lebanese have experienced displacement due to the explosion, leaving them more exposed to the virus because they may have no place to settle down and continue quarantining.
Kaadan calls out her fellow Americans in their own view of the world, saying “And you can’t care about one person, one group. Because that’s not how the world is, you know, like, we need to rally around those who need help.”
This may be true not only for Americans but for the international community in general. Lebanon needs help from all around the world. Hospitals are overflowing and the economy is in freefall. A city built off imports no longer has a port. Lebanon is calling out for help, and as Kaadan said, “We need to listen.”
– Tara Suter