After a year of the explosion in the port of Beirut, there are more questions than answers for the thousands of families who were left homeless in the Lebanese capital, and who continue to suffer the structural damage left behind. The international community echoes the situation of vulnerability of these families, while warning that the thousands of tons of rubble threaten to cause a solid waste crisis if it is not resolved as soon as possible.
At least 300,000 people were initially affected by the explosion in the Lebanese capital on August 4, 2020, many of whom are still homeless a year later, as much of the debris left by the impact remains unremoved. Many of them still need humanitarian aid.
The damage caused to a good part of Beirut’s infrastructure, at least 9,700 buildings according to UN data, has also left families emotionally and economically deteriorated due to the inaction of a state in crisis incapable of breaking the political blockade to form a new government.
Information obtained by the UN through a survey of some 1,187 Lebanese citizens highlights that seven out of ten affected households requested basic aid after the 2020 explosive impact, which caused more than 200 deaths and at least 6,500 injured.
The challenge, according to the organization, is to rebuild the hardest hit homes, classified as infrastructures with “severe” damage, among which are some 1,093 buildings, where repairs have advanced “very slowly” or have not advanced at all.
Furthermore, although efforts have been made to restore facilities such as schools, hospitals and clinics with the help of NGOs, a significant part of the public infrastructure remains seriously damaged, such as heritage buildings.
“Heritage buildings are not designed to withstand any kind of lateral force, in particular earthquakes, wind forces or, in our case, explosion,” said the head of UN-Habitat’s Urban Planning and Design Unit in Lebanon. , Elie Mansour.
Other damages are observed in the sewage system because the impact of the explosion also extended underground.
“It went underground and blew out all the heavy manhole covers, so you can imagine what happened to the pipes. Since then no one has conducted any surveys, no assessments, no one has opened the sewers to see what happened in the network, “Mansour said.
Meanwhile, the thousands of tons of debris generated by hatching have exacerbated the waste problem and, in some cases, pose a threat to public health, due to the asbestos found in destroyed buildings.
“We are on the verge of a solid waste crisis if actions are not taken to rehabilitate the sorting facilities,” Mansour warned.
According to the UN expert, several points enabled for the storage of rubble contain waste contaminated with asbestos – a component that can cause cancer when inhaled – because most of the roofs in the buildings of the Lebanese city are made with a material that contains this element.
“That debris is contaminated with all kinds of … ammonium nitrate and other dangerous substances stored there,” Mansour told Al Jazeera television. “And so far assistance in all humanitarian sectors has been minimal, let’s be frank,” he stressed.
Delayed blast investigations, denounce EU and HRW
The human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), on the eve of the year after the Beirut incident, published a report denouncing a series of problems in the Lebanese legal and political system that prevent solving the causes and determining the culprits. of this tragic event for the country.
The report called “They killed us from within” it is based on various official documents that explain, among other things, why the State has not been able to move forward and end the official investigation.
According to the organization, the evidence shows that the causes of the explosion are related to the negligence of senior Lebanese officials, including Acting Prime Minister Hassan Diab, “who did not accurately communicate the dangers posed by ammonium nitrate,” a chemical that was stored for almost six years in a warehouse in Beirut and that ended up causing the deflagration.
“Despite the devastation caused by the explosion, Lebanese officials continue to choose the path of avoiding (responsibilities) and impunity for truth and justice,” said during a press conference on Tuesday, the director of Crisis and Conflict in HRW, Lama Fakih, as he asked the UN Human Rights Council for immediate authorization of a parallel investigation.
For its part, the European Union (EU) on Tuesday asked the Lebanese authorities for results on the progress of the investigation into the causes of the incident.
“The European Union once again urges the Lebanese authorities to give results, without further delay, on the ongoing investigation into the causes of the explosion,” said the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, in a statement.
“One year after this tragic event, the families of the victims and the Lebanese people are still waiting for answers,” Borrell said.
A tragedy in the midst of a triple crisis that illustrates the serious situation in the country
As if it were not enough for families, having lost their homes and relatives, the situation in Lebanon is much more complex when the intensification of the economic crisis that began in 2019, the State crisis and also the coronavirus pandemic is added. .
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the aftermath of last year’s explosion left tens of thousands of people out of work, as the impact wiped out multiple businesses and many lost their livelihoods.
By the end of 2020, 19% of Lebanese had reported the loss of their main source of income and 78% of the population lived in poverty, a third of them in extreme poverty, OCHA noted.
Food prices rose a staggering 400% between January and December 2020, putting on alert the humanitarian needs of the Lebanese, especially female-headed households facing high unemployment rates.
Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since August 2020, since interim Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned after the explosion. Since then, attempts to form a new government have been void, which has led to a political stalemate that prevents it from facing the deep economic and financial crisis that the nation is going through.
A report released in June by the World Bank asserts that Lebanon’s economic crisis is defined as one of the worst financial crises in the world in modern history.
“The economic and financial crisis is likely to rank in the top ten, or even the three most serious crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century,” the document noted.
Some of the reasons, according to the entity that explains the panorama of the country, refer largely to corruption and mismanagement of the nation’s political elite.
Another problem, in an already fragile country, has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 1,068 new infections reported on average every day, while the concern falls on the delta variant.
With a health system that lacks the necessary medicines and infrastructure, the country is in one of the most delicate moments in which the virus is added, which has already claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people.