On August 4, a massive blast rocked Beirut, Lebanon’s capital. Last week, Lebanon’s caretaker government reported that the death toll from the blast has risen to 190. More than 6,500 are injured and three people missing.
The explosion took place in Beirut’s port. The cause of the explosion was not immediately apparent. Yet, officials soon linked it to some 2,750 tons of confiscated ammonium nitrate (NO2) that had been stored in a warehouse at the port for six years. The warehouse was just a short walk from Beirut’s shopping and nightlife districts.
Beirut’s governor, Marwan Abboud, said that some 300,000 people have lost their homes as a result of the explosion. The current estimate is that damages range from three to five billion USD. Yet, Beirut officials have projected that the damage from the enormous blast could reach $15 billion. As of now, the true extent of the destruction remains unknown.
The explosion completely flattened the harbor front and surrounding buildings. Repairing or replacing the Beirut’s port, which is the country’s lifeline, could take years. Fortunately, signs of life a month later are still being found in the rubble.
On Monday, Lebanon’s president appointed Mustapha Adib as the country’s prime minister. Mustapha Adib, had been Lebanon’s ambassador to Berlin since 2013. He is Lebanon’s second prime minister since Saad Hariri resigned in the face of mass protests in October. Adib’s government must tackle the financial crisis and the explosion’s aftermath.
Adib will have to set up a reform-oriented government in record time. This will not be easy in a crisis-hit country in which this process usually takes months. Adib “can only obtain legitimacy by quickly forming a mission government made up of professionals, the strongest possible team,” the French President Macron said.
Addressing journalists at the Presidential Palace after his designation, Mr. Adib vowed to confront the country’s many problems swiftly. “There is no time for talks and promises,” he said. “It’s time to get to work, and God willing, we will succeed in picking a ministerial team of specialists and experts.”
But for many Lebanese citizens, hundreds of thousands of whom saw their homes destroyed in the devastating blast, the personnel changes at the government’s top are merely a facade. “He’s the new mask of the system,” Yumna Fawaz, a local journalist in Beirut, told CNBC. Sara El Dallal, a Lebanese marketing manager who spent weeks volunteering with humanitarian aid groups after the explosion, described Adib’s visit in a damaged Beirut suburb shortly after his appointment. She recalled him being “kicked out” by angry residents. “He will not make a difference,” she said. “He is another face of the same political regime.”
The French government has been directly involved in helping Lebanon. The French embassy distributed a “draft program” to the heads of Lebanon’s political blocs to help the newly appointed prime minister. The French have recommended the following:
First, tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and the humanitarian situation. Second, addressing the aftermath of the August 4 explosion and the commencing the rebuilding of Beirut. Third, implementing government reforms. And finally, calling for new elections.
But it appears that the explosion that rocked Beirut could have been much worse as it was revealed that the port housed much more ammonium nitrate. Last week, Lebanon’s military said it found more than four tons of ammonium nitrate near the port. The military said in a statement that they discovered 4.35 tons of ammonium nitrate in containers at a facility near the port. The army said experts were called in, and they are “dealing with the material.” It is very fortunate that last month’s blast did not set off this quantity too, or else the damage could have been tremendous.
In the days after the explosion, Italian and French experts working in the port said they found more than 20 containers carrying dangerous materials. The Lebanese military later said the containers were moved to safer locations away from the port.
So far, more than 25 people, mostly Lebanese customs officials, have been arrested following the explosion.
Victims of the blast were remembered in a recent vigil. Some lit candles in silence — others took the opportunity to voice their anger towards the government’s response in the aftermath of the blast.