First News


- Disasters · Beirut · Cyprus · United Nations · World Health Organization · Tripoli · Michel Aoun · Lebanon · Emmanuel Macron

LAST week, a huge ex­plo­sion dev­as­tated the port of Beirut, Lebanon’s cap­i­tal city. Hun­dreds of peo­ple were killed or are miss­ing and many thou­sands were in­jured. The dis­as­ter hap­pened when thou­sands of tonnes of chem­i­cals that were be­ing stored un­safely ig­nited dur­ing a large ware­house fire.

If you’ve seen footage of the blast on the news or on so­cial me­dia, you’ll know just how dra­matic it was.

What started off as a fire at the city’s port last Tues­day (4 Au­gust), soon turned into two sep­a­rate ex­plo­sions, in­clud­ing one that an ex­pert in ex­plo­sives called the world’s “largest ever non-nu­clear blast”. Many build­ings were com­pletely de­stroyed, and the blast was so pow­er­ful that peo­ple liv­ing in Cyprus, over 150 miles away, ac­tu­ally felt the ex­plo­sion and thought it was an earth­quake.

Trag­i­cally, the in­ci­dent re­sulted in the deaths of at least 200 peo­ple and in­jured more than 6,000 oth­ers, with many peo­ple still miss­ing. The United Na­tions (UN) said that more than 100,000 chil­dren had been forced to leave their homes fol­low­ing the ex­plo­sion.

Hos­pi­tals through­out the city – which were al­ready busy deal­ing with the coro­n­avirus pan­demic – have been over­run by the blast. In fact, three of the city’s busiest hos­pi­tals were left “non-func­tional” be­cause of the ex­plo­sion, and three oth­ers have been “par­tially dam­aged”, putting huge amounts of pres­sure on re­main­ing hos­pi­tals and health work­ers. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) said that “many fa­cil­i­ties are over­whelmed”.

Due to a se­vere lack of hos­pi­tal beds, pa­tients are re­port­edly be­ing trans­ferred to hos­pi­tals across the coun­try, some as far south as Saida and north of Tripoli, a cou­ple of hours away from Beirut.

Le­banese pres­i­dent Michel Aoun said a fire in the port caused thou­sands of tonnes of an ex­plo­sive ma­te­rial called am­mo­nium ni­trate to ex­plode. The ware­house had been stor­ing the ex­plo­sive ma­te­rial un­safely for more than six years.

As sur­vivors fight on and the city be­gins to pick up the pieces, many peo­ple in Beirut want an­swers and are de­mand­ing jus­tice from their govern­ment. As First News went to press, Beirut had ex­pe­ri­enced sev­eral nights of vi­o­lent protests, with ri­ot­ers rag­ing at how the govern­ment has han­dled the cri­sis. For a long time, many have ac­cused the govern­ment of cor­rup­tion (dis­hon­est and il­le­gal acts), and are fu­ri­ous that it al­lowed such a huge amount of po­ten­tially danger­ous chem­i­cals to be kept so close to the city cen­tre.

On Mon­day evening (10 Au­gust), the en­tire Le­banese govern­ment re­signed, step­ping down be­cause of the pub­lic up­roar. Prime Min­is­ter Has­san Diab made the an­nounce­ment in a speech on na­tional TV, say­ing that “this crime” was a re­sult of cor­rup­tion that is “big­ger than the state”.

The UN has warned that the peo­ple of Lebanon are in des­per­ate need of food and med­i­cal aid and if th­ese sup­plies do not reach them soon, the world risks a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

On Sun­day (9 Au­gust), peo­ple from all over the world do­nated $297m (£227m) to help the cri­sis in Lebanon at a vir­tual sum­mit hosted by French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron.

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