By: Yoni Manor
The country of Lebanon was shaken to its core when a nuclear bomb-like explosion rocked its capital city of Beirut on August 4th, 2020, killing 160 people and injuring over 6,000. It created a massive mushroom cloud and a seismic shock wave that severely damaged roads and buildings as it shattered glass for miles. More concerningly, the explosion occurred at the Port of Beirut, Lebanon’s only avenue for importing and exporting goods, dealing a crucial blow to their already suffering economy. The blast originated from warehouses storing a total of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly volatile chemical compound used in fertilizer and explosives. This mysteriously large shipment of this chemical compound was imported back in 2013 from a Russian-owned vessel. Why the ammonium nitrate was sitting in storage for seven years is yet to be known, but its bizarre origins raise questions and concerns.
The blast completely obliterated the port, including all of its warehouses, grain silos, surrounding buildings, and ships that were in the port, creating a 140 meter crater on the coast of the northern Meditranean Sea. The massive destruction displaced 300,000 Lebanese, leaving them homeless.
How could such a destructive accident like this happen? The internet was in a frenzy for several days after the explosion initially occurred, tossing around theories about what happened. Anti israeli advocates and terrorist groups initially blamed the explosion on Israel, thinking they did it to spite Lebanon. Israel quickly rejected these accusations and along with many other countries, offered aid to Lebanon. Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, stated that the ammonium nitrate storage caused the explosion after officials pointed out that the large amount of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the port for years without proper safety precautions, despite warnings from local officials. This statement comes after the months of the government’s mishandling of the nation’s economy, sparking a great deal of discontent among the nation’s citizens.
Over a month later, Beirut and the country of Lebanon are still dealing with the devastating health and economic effects of this disaster. Before the explosion, Lebanon was already experiencing a years long economic crisis, especially in the most recent months, with most parts of Lebanon receiving no more than two or three hours of electricity a day. This crisis was the result of decades of economic mismanagement, government instability and corruption, and overspending. The Lebanese pound dropped in value dramatically, causing hyperinflation, with essential medicines disappearing from pharmacies and hospitals laying off their staff due to insufficient government funds. Economic experts were already predicting a Venezuela-like economic collapse before Lebanon’s only harbor of goods was destroyed, but now the situation looks even bleeker.
The blast destroyed Beirut’s main grain silo at the port, the largest grain storage facility in the country, leaving Lebanon with less than a month of grain reserves. The harbor was one of the country’s main sources for importing food. With over 50% of the Lebanese population living below the poverty line, and many of them starving, an even more devastating food shortage for the country could follow in the months ahead. Experts say the blast could reignite anti-government protests, which could plunge the country into renewed civil and political unrest.
Although the “Prayers for Beirut” Instagram posts have stopped circulating, Lebanon is still in crisis. Beirut mayor Jamal Itani said restoring the city will cost “billions of dollars”, which the Lebanese government simply does not have. It appears that only a major restructuring of its government and economy will turn the Middle Eastern nation around in the long term. For the time being however, aid is desperately needed to get the country back on its already very weak feet.