Lebanese society demands answers

Lebanon's ambassador to Jordan announced her resignation on Thursday, deploring the "total negligence" committed by the country's authorities
A protester is photographed in the smoke from tear gas during a protest near the parliament in Beirut, Lebanon

REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR  -   A protester is photographed in the smoke from tear gas during a protest near the parliament in Beirut, Lebanon

Anger and rage have conquered every corner of Lebanon. The spark that lit the fuse was the explosion that struck the port of Beirut on Tuesday, leaving more than 5,000 injured and 149 dead.  Lebanon - a country in the throes of an unprecedented economic crisis - continues rescue efforts to find the more than 100 people still missing. In this unstable environment, the country's society has begun to ask where their leaders are and has taken to the streets to demand answers.

While the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, was demanding reforms from the country's leaders, violence began to erupt on one of the roads leading to the nation's parliament. In a demonstration against the explosion that was considered by some people as an example of the "incompetence of the Executive", a confrontation took place between the Police and some of the people present at this protest. At this rally, some of those present set fire to, destroyed shops and threw stones at the security forces, who responded with tear gas, according to The National newspaper. 

The French president arrived in Beirut this Thursday morning to tour the site of this tragedy, whose shockwave reached several surrounding neighborhoods causing material losses of between 3 and 5 billion dollars, according to local authorities. After learning that the explosion was caused by the deflagration of more than 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored in the port of Beirut without proper precautions, public indignation has only increased. 

"Beyond the explosion (...) today there is a political, moral, economic and financial crisis that has lasted several months, several years, and this implies strong political initiatives," Macron warned in a meeting with his counterpart Michel Aoun. The French president also announced a donors' conference to support Lebanon, stressing that "now is the time to rebuild trust and hope", according to statements gathered by the EFE agency. This is the second resignation of this kind after Tuesday's explosion, after legislator Marwan Hamadeh also resigned on Wednesday.

The Lebanese ambassador to Jordan announced her resignation on Thursday, lamenting the "total negligence" committed by the country's authorities. In an interview broadcast by Lebanese broadcaster MTV, Tracy Chamoun said she could not tolerate the "ineptitude of her government".  "I am announcing my resignation as ambassador, in protest against state negligence, theft and lying," she said before saying that "everyone must leave," the Guardian reported. 

International Monetary Fund (IMF) director Kristalina Georgieva has also been critical of the Lebanese government. "It is time for national unity, to overcome this disaster as well as to address the deep economic and social crisis the country continues to face. It is also a good time for the international community to step forward to help the country in this time of urgent need," she said in an official statement. With regard to the economic sphere Kristalina Georgieva explained that the IMF was exploring "all possible ways" to support the Lebanese people. "It is essential to overcome the stalemate in discussions on critical reforms and to set in motion a significant programme to change the economy and to generate responsibility and confidence in the country's future," she said. 

The collapse of the currency, rising inflation and the deep financial crisis in Lebanon, coupled with this explosion and the coronavirus pandemic, have exacerbated political tensions in a nation that is calling for responses. Lebanon - a country of some five million people and home to more than 1.5 million refugees - is one of the most heavily indebted nations in the world. Last Tuesday's tragedy has left between 200,000 and 250,000 people homeless, according to the governorate of the Lebanese capital.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) fears that this explosion will push up food prices and has announced the dispatch of 5,000 food parcels to the affected families. Each package is enough to feed five people for a month and includes such basic foods as rice, pasta, oil, sugar, salt or tomato sauce, according to an official statement.  "The damage to the port of Beirut, where ships carrying a third of WFP's food supplies to the region dock, will significantly exacerbate the already bleak economic and food security prospects in the country," a WFP spokesperson said. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) fears that the adverse effects of this disaster will be long-lasting, as the explosion has hit an "already very fragile country after months of economic crisis and pandemic". "Lebanon will continue to feel the effects of the explosion for a long time to come because, in addition to the loss of life and injuries, many people have been left homeless and without their way of life," the organization said.  

The Central Bank of Lebanon on Thursday announced interest-free loans to be paid back in five years for those who have to rebuild their homes or find a home.  The international community has also turned its attention to the country by offering emergency financial assistance or health personnel, among other initiatives. The UN has announced an initial allocation of nine million dollars to provide immediate support for hospitals, while Morocco has ordered a military field hospital. The news agency MAP has specified that the delegation sent to Lebanon is composed of 100 people, including 14 doctors of different specialties, nurses and support staff. 

Tributes to the victims of this tragedy have also been held throughout the world. In Brazil, the Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro was illuminated this Thursday with the flag of Lebanon. "We came to send a message of solidarity and support, and to tell the Lebanese people that we were always strong and always managed to get out of all the miseries, the massacres, the blood and the death," emphasized Alejandro Bitar, Consul General of Lebanon in Rio de Janeiro.