Lebanon’s capital city was devastated by an explosion on the evening of August 4, caused by a fire in a warehouse at Beirut’s port, where 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate explosives were being stored.
At least 190 died in the explosion and thousands more were injured, but the extent of the destruction, compounded by long-standing inequality and government corruption, is still becoming clear.
As of now, unemployment has surpassed 30%, with 70,000 more made jobless by the blast and 200,000 expected to be unemployed by the end of the year, and “that’s only looking at the formal sector,” Oxfam’s policy lead in Lebanon Bachir Ayoub told Forbes.
Half of the wholesale, retail and hospitality establishments in the blast’s vicinity were destroyed; among them, numerous local businesses in the formerly lively downtown area.
Lebanon’s currency, the lira, began losing value in October 2019 and last week inflation soared past 100% to levels last seen after the country’s civil war, making “the cost of basic materials needed to rebuild homes and businesses out of reach for thousands of people who were struggling to get by even before the blast,” according to Ayoub.
The coronavirus crisis has also significantly worsened in the weeks since the blast, with the country reporting between 500 and 600 cases per day (up from dozens of daily infections before August) and many unable to afford a coronavirus test, priced at $100.
“Many people are unable to put food on the table, let alone repair their houses,” said Ayoub, adding: “In the most affected areas, the majority of people are low and middle-income workers who earn the minimum wage or less. Most of them have lost their jobs in the port or the businesses in the devastated areas.”
Even before the explosion, the World Bank was predicting that 50% of Lebanese people would be living below the poverty line this year. These inequalities, Ayoub explains, have been exacerbated by the explosion. “The system itself was no longer sustainable,” he said. Another problem has been instability within the Lebanese government, which the country’s people blamed for the blast after reports emerged that it had known about the ammonium nitrate stored in the warehouse for years but, despite multiple warnings, opted not to move the materials. The entire Lebanese government stepped down a week later and a new prime minister, Mustapha Adib, was appointed on Monday. French President Emmanuel Macron has given Adib a two-week deadline to secure approval from his cabinet.
After detecting signs of life, rescue teams have been searching through the rubble in Beirut on Friday to locate a possible survivor, 30 days after the explosion.