For a country on the brink of collapse following years of negligent governance, are the people of Beirut the only solution to the crisis they have been forced into?
For months the people of Lebanon have been suffering under a corrupt government whilst battling with inflation, unemployment, famine and skyrocketing suicide rates – all of this worsened by the COVID-19 outbreak.
It was a nation on its knees and following the explosion in early August that killed at least 220 people and injured tens of thousands more – the result of the governments criminally negligent storage of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate – it begs the question, can Lebanon recover?
A country in turmoil
For months the people of Lebanon have been protesting and using their voices to highlight their fury towards government corruption, inefficiency and the lack of basic services. They have suffered decades of frequent power cuts, water shortages and a lack of basic healthcare, all at the hands of a government who have gained through the suffering of the people they are supposed to serve.
Pre-explosion and COVID-19, the political uprising was in full swing. Lebanon was caught up in its worst economic crisis in history – half the population of Lebanon were living on or below the poverty line. To put that into some perspective, that is 3,406, 000 people. This was the number of people who were starving in Lebanon in 2019 at the hand of their own government.
The blasts destroyed the Beirut port, which is all the more devastating as it was a crucial link to the supply chain for 60% of Lebanon’s food, medicine, and other imports. Furthermore, the blasts destroyed 85% of the country’s grain and authorities have since reported that what did survive has been deemed inedible. Despite this, the government sat in silence, leaving a humanitarian crisis following their negligence. Where is the guilt of these officials, where is the remorse for the loss of life?
As the days pass following the explosion the world has seen the resignation of the Lebanese government. The Lebanese Health Minister stated that this is the government taking responsibility, but that is debatable, and to be frank, feels as though they are running away from the problems that they have created rather than rectifying them.
The people of Lebanon are angry.
Hospitals destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of families have been displaced. A country ravaged with famine has lost one of its vital supply links.
Where is the leadership? Where is the accountability?
Despite the grief amongst the citizens in Beirut, they take to the streets demanding change: they are calling out the negligence and mismanagement of the government. Officers are greeting protesters with tear-gas instead of solutions, but this will not silence the anger that lives among the hearts of the people of Lebanon.
The protesters were heard to be shouting “Our demands are one, our objective is one: the people want the downfall of the regime”. Following the protests, two officials have resigned, including Lebanon’s ambassador to Jordan, Tracy Chamoun, who has stated that “the catastrophe has shown the need for change in leadership”.
Now is the time for change in a government and system which is so deep-rooted in greed and power that it has forgotten about the one unanimous factor that has kept Lebanon breathing – the Lebanese people.
There is no doubt that the effects of the explosion on the families of victims, survivors and witnesses will be lifelong. It will be a tragedy we tell our children about and one that cannot and will not be forgotten.
Financially, Lebanon is at crisis point and has been long before this explosion and that is why many Lebanese people are begging people distant to the crisis not to send aid money to their government. The government that have spent decades benefiting by restricting access to basic needs for the Lebanese citizens to line their pockets with the people’s hard earnings whilst spiralling the country’s debt out of control.
Will France take control of Lebanon? A petition with over 61,000 signatures has asked for Lebanon to be taken back under the French mandate in order to allow the people of Lebanon to escape a government which has been described as having “a total inability to manage the country”. There is hope that the explosion may help to promote change in a country that has been fighting for it for so long.
Despite the heartbreak, the tragedy and the sheer ignorance of an unsupportive government, the people of Lebanon have acted with kindness. Vivian Yee explained the altruism of people following the blast and the compassion from people that were strangers to her but acted as though she was a life-long friend by treating her wounds and helping her to find aid.
This is not the only story of hope; baby George was born amidst the wreckage of broken hospital windows where doctors and nurses worked under torch lights from phones to ensure that both mother and baby were safe. Parents, Emmanuelle and Edmound, praised the hospital staff that delivered their new-born baby and helped them to all made it out alive.
Another story of hope comes in the form of a nurse in Al Roum hospital who managed to save the lives of three babies that had been in the maternity unit when the explosion hit. The nurse was photographed, by Bilal Jawich, holding the babies close to her chest among the destruction of her hospital bay. She managed to save the babies and transfer them to a new unit with their mother, despite having a concussion herself.
Kindness lives among the rubble; it is a song of hope which cannot be muted. This is the time for change. The current government have proved their inability to protect and serve the people of Lebanon and the people of Lebanon continue to prove that their hope and good spirit prevails – they will be the change their country so desperately needs. It is these people, their stories and their resilience which will eventually rebuild Beirut and eventually Lebanon, in spite of the failures of their previous government.
Links to support Lebanon
- Lebanese Red Cross – emergency response unit and the main provider of medical services in Lebanon
- Lebanese Food Bank – provides food to families and individuals in need
- Impact Lebanon – raising money for disaster relief
- Offrejoie – creates links with people living communal life experiences
- Chance – supporting children with cancer in Lebanon
- Bank to School – provides school tuition fees for children
- Bassma – supports deprived families
- Arc En Ciel – supports development for marginalised people and communities
- Sesobel – supporting children with special needs