Description of the disaster
On Tuesday 4 August 2020 at around 6pm, two explosions occurred at the Port of Beirut. The cause remains unclear, but initial reports claim it started with a fire in a firework storage, which extended to highly-flammable and explosive material stored in one of the many port warehouses causing two explosions, the second being massive. This led to an enormous shock wave that rippled through greater Beirut and surrounding areas, extending up to Bekaa area. The sound of the explosion could be heard as far away as the island of Cyprus, located in the Mediterranean Sea 240 km away. The blast flattened the city's port, surrounding structures and infrastructure have been heavily damaged. Many buildings have collapsed or at risk of collapsing, roads blocked due to fallen debris and open cracks in the ground, mass destruction of vehicles all over the city, shattered glass has been reported miles away from the port. It is reported that around 200 people lost their lives, more than 6,000 people are injured and around 6 people are still missing, it is estimated that around 300,000 people have damaged households.
The impact of the explosions extended 6 kilometers from the epicenter, causing what can be categorized as ‘severe damage’; 10 kilometers with ‘moderate’ damage; and up to 20 kilometers with ‘light’ damage.
According to different UN and government sources, more than 50,000 houses have been impacted with minor, moderate or major damage (OCHA; UNDP, Lebanese Republic Presidency of the Council of Ministers, DRM Unit). Beirut establishments, especially small and medium businesses in the wholesale, retail and hospitality e.g food and beverages, tourism, lodging and recreation sectors have been heavily affected, in the scale of 15,000 units which are closed due to the damages reported. This has a direct effect on the lives and livelihoods of those employed whether residing inside or outside Beirut. Those living in low-income and underserved parts of Beirut are among the most vulnerable as they may have lost both their houses and source of income. The damage extends to health sector, whereby multiple centrally located public and private hospitals reported extensive damage and were not able to welcome patients after the explosion and until today.
The implications of this disaster are further exacerbated by the multiple crises the country is currently witnessing starting with the refugees’ crisis since 2011 and most recently the economic crisis, COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest/security incidents. The most important highlights from these crises are the rising inflation whereby, currency lost 80% of its value with commodity prices consistently increasing. Vulnerable Lebanese and other at-risk groups, such as refugees and migrant workers, are increasingly unable to meet their basic needs. According to recent estimates by the World Bank that include the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, poverty would rise from 30% in 2019 to 45% or more of the population by the end of 20201 , while extreme (food) poverty would more than double to 22%. This is coupled with political instability and the inability to form a new government since the resignation of the former cabinet after the explosion on August 10.
PM-designate Saad Hariri was designated as new prime minister on October 22 and he began consultations with MPs on October 23rd to form a cabinet. Hariri met with all the Lebanese political parties. Post the meeting Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri described the non-binding consultations he held with parliamentary blocs as “positive,” noting that the discussions focused on the reforms that the new government should implement “as soon as possible.” The rate of Covid-19 infection cases has been rising since August 2020 and a significant increase has been observed in October whereby an average of 1,500 cases was reported daily in the last week of October and even higher number of cases in the first week of November (1,800) in various clusters in the country compared to a daily average of 100 cases in July; the highest reported number is 2,142 cases on November 7. According to WHO, the occupancy rate of ICU beds in Lebanon across all hospitals is 87.6% (as reported on Nov. 4), therefore capacity of hospitals to treat severe cases is at critical stage. The government has issued several memorandums isolating villages and cities with high caseload; however, these measures were not adhered to due to the growing mistrust in the government and the deteriorating economic situation in the country.