Even before a pair of explosions in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut tore a vicious streak of death and damage through the city last week, the country was already grappling with a severe economic and political crisis.
Now, the blasts combined with the coronavirus pandemic, rampant unrest and political corruption have created what one expert in an interview with The West Block is calling a “perfect storm” of devastation.
“All in all, it’s the perfect storm of everything awful that could happen to a beautiful country and people,” said Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation and a leading Canadian voice on political affairs in the region.
More than 150 people died and thousands of others were injured in a seismic blast that levelled much of the city’s critical port and industrial areas.
Many others remain missing.
No official cause has yet been determined but officials in Lebanon have said the likely explanation was the accidental detonation of roughly 2,700 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate stored in a port warehouse following confiscation by authorities six years ago.
The resulting explosion registered on seismic monitors hundreds of kilometres away and blew out the windows in the city’s airport roughly 10 kilometres from the blast site, leaving roughly 300,000 people homeless.
But the devastation follows roiling protests that have gripped the country for nearly a year — the latest in decades of civil unrest in the country — resulting from widespread anger over political corruption, sectarian violence, economic stagnation and lack of jobs, and a lack of reliable access to essential services including hydro and drinking water.
Hunger, Momani noted, was already widespread in the import-reliant country and with the main port now destroyed, she stressed that is only going to get worse.
Momani also added that while she was pleased to see the Canadian government announce its humanitarian aid contribution would go to NGOs on the ground rather than the corrupt Lebanese government, she was disappointed to see the amount offered up.
“Frankly, $5 million is a joke. I don’t even know why they’ve announced such a small number,” she said.
“The average home in Toronto is a million dollars … so it’s a bit funny, you know, with our great history, our great involvement, all the diaspora links and the rest of it, that we would have only such a small amount to give.”
There are roughly 219,555 Canadians of Lebanese ancestry and they make up the largest Middle Eastern diaspora in the country — a number that has been growing for years now.
Momani said Lebanon is going to need help beyond just humanitarian aid to move forward.
“We need to talk about it a lot on a larger scale — a debt forgiveness — and help Lebanon get out of its mess with conditions of governance reform. That’s the key thing,” she said.
“I really do believe that the Lebanese people can get themselves out of this.”