Lebanon/MENA: Beirut-Port Explosion, Operation Update Report n° 4 (MDRLB009)

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Description of the disaster

On Tuesday 4 August 2020 at around 6pm, two explosions occurred at the Port of Beirut. The cause remains unclear, however initial reports have claimed it started with a fire in a firework storage area, which extended to highly flammable and explosive material stored in one of the many port warehouses causing two explosions, the second was 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. Many buildings collapsed or are risk of collapsing, roads were blocked due to the 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 injured and around six (6) people are still reported as missing, it is estimated that around 300,000 people have damaged households (HHs).

The impact of the explosions extended out to six (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 the health sector, whereby multiple centrally located public and private hospitals reported extensive damage and were not able to welcome patients after the explosion.

The implications of this disaster are further exacerbated by the multiple crises the country is currently witnessing starting with the ongoing refugee crisis since 2011 and most recently the economic crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, and daily security incidents. Most importantly these are exacerbated by the increasing economic crisis, rising inflation whereby Vulnerable Lebanese and other at-risk groups, such as refugees and migrant workers, are increasingly unable to meet their basic needs.

Annual inflation was 84.9% in 2020, compared to just 2.9% a year earlier, according to data released by the government’s Central Administration of Statistics. It’s the highest since 2013, when the current readings began.
Consumer prices jumped 145.8% in December versus the same month of 20191.

Breakdown of December 2020 price increases from a year earlier:

  • Food and non-alcoholic beverages rose 402.3%

  • Alcoholic beverages, tobacco up 392.5%

  • Clothing and footwear increased 559.8%

  • Restaurants and hotels rose 609%

  • Furnishings, HH equipment and routine maintenance up 655.1%

Lebanon’s currency collapsed after political and financial crises escalated in 2019, with foreign currency inflows and the central bank’s reserves dwindling.

The official peg of 1,507.5 pounds per dollar only applies to imports of fuel and pharmaceuticals, with essential food items bought at a central bank-supported rate of 3,900 pounds. The Lebanese currency has reached 8,800 per dollar on the black market.

Aid talks with the International Monetary Fund have stalled after disputes with commercial lenders and the central bank, the country’s largest debt holders.

The government resigned in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut in August 2020 and has been running the country in a caretaker capacity as efforts to form a new administration have stalled. There has been little stimulus to save an economy that’s also been battered by a raft of measures to control a spike of coronavirus cases.

The rate of Covid-19 infection cases has been rising consistently till January 2021 reaching a maximum of over 6,000 cases daily were reported. 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. In January, a complete lockdown of the country was imposed to reduce the number of daily cases and ease pressure on an already overwhelmed health sector.