Two years after the devastating explosion in the port of Beirut, the situation in the city seems to have changed little. Last weekend it happened again: A grain silo, where a fire had raged for weeks, largely collapsed. How are things now, two years after the historic disaster?
So far, no injuries have been reported in last Sunday’s collapse of the silo.
The fire started because grain had been fermenting since the disaster of 2020. It caught fire due to the recent sustained heat. The fire brigade did not succeed in extinguishing the fire.
The incident happened almost two years after the explosion in the same port, whose images went around the world. Today, the disaster is still an open wound for Lebanon.
What happened in 2020?
- On August 4, 2020, Beirut was rocked by a massive explosion in the port, which caused extensive damage to the port and the city.
- 215 people did not survive the disaster; thousands of people were injured and tens of thousands left homeless.
- The explosion was caused by the fact that tons of the explosive substance ammonium nitrate had been stored insecurely in the harbor since 2013.
- The government would have been aware of the storage of ammonium nitrate, but did not intervene.
- Large-scale anti-government protests followed. Lebanese accused the then government of corruption and favoritism. The population held the government responsible for both the explosion and the major financial crisis that the country has been in for some time. The entire government resigned a week later.
Inflation, shortages and soaring prices
Things are not going well in Lebanon. According to the World Bank, current conditions in the country are among the ten worst crises in modern history and “possibly the top three”. Since the explosion at the port – a devastating blow to the economy – the financial crisis that has plagued the country since 2019 has only worsened.
Currently, more than half of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line. There is also high unemployment. This while food prices have risen and wages have plummeted.
The city is also home to the most refugees per capita, according to figures from the UN Refugee Agency, the majority of whom live in extreme poverty. For example, the UN estimates that there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Beirut alone, as well as tens of thousands of displaced people from other countries.
“The situation here in Beirut is terrible,” said Oana Bara, a Red Cross aid worker in the capital. “There is hyperinflation, food is unaffordable, and medical treatment and medicine are scarce.”
With his team, Bara helps local aid workers and provides basic services such as health care and financial assistance to the city’s residents. In addition to the Red Cross, several other aid organizations are active, including Save the Children, Oxfam Novib and special aid programs from the UN.
Crisis follows crisis in Lebanon
In addition to the economic recession and the corona pandemic with all its consequences, Lebanon is now also struggling with a bread crisis. The war in Ukraine is causing major shortages in the country, which previously relied heavily on imports of Ukrainian and Russian grain. In addition, the grain storage silos were destroyed in the 2020 explosion.
“People here have to queue for hours to get a loaf of bread,” local journalist Safwan Shami told NU.nl from Beirut.
Whether the latest grain deal between Russia and Ukraine will change remains to be seen. On Tuesday, the first Ukrainian ship with grain reached the Turkish coast, after which it will sail on to Lebanon.
Billions in damages have still not been recovered
Two years after the blast, little has been done to repair the billions of dollars in damage still visible in Beirut, Shami observes.
“There hasn’t been much construction since the explosion, so the collapse of the silo doesn’t surprise me,” Shami said. “With the ongoing corruption, I fear that the situation will only worsen and that it will become impossible to live here.”
According to him, many people in Beirut are not only traumatized by the disaster, but also emotionally exhausted by the successive crises in the country. “The community urgently needs help.”