Two years after the explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon on the brink

Two years after the explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon on the brink


Lebanon marks Thursday the second anniversary of the gigantic explosion at the port of Beirut which devastated entire districts of the capital, with demonstrations by relatives of victims determined to continue their fight for truth and justice . 

The explosion on August 4, 2020 at a warehouse housing hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored carelessly — one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded — killed more than 200 people and injured 6,500.

Yet the investigation in Lebanon has been hampered by political interference and no state official has so far been held responsible for the tragedy that unfolded anew last week. Several badly damaged grain silos in the port enclosure have collapsed, and others are in danger of collapsing, experts say.

“I hope seeing the silos fall will give people the will to fight for justice, to fight with us,” Tatiana Hasrouty, a resident who lost her father in the blast, told AFP. Politicians are “doing everything in their power to stop the investigation,” she lamented.

This mega-explosion is a nightmare in the already turbulent history of Lebanon, now mired in the worst economic crisis in its history, facing relentless power cuts, runaway inflation and widespread despair.

Three separate protest marches are planned for Thursday towards the port where smoke is still billowing from silos after a fire caused by fermenting grain stocks in the scorching summer heat.

The huge explosion two years ago was felt as far away as Cyprus, a Mediterranean island about 200 km away. It has further affected a population already tested by the crisis and provoked a massive exodus from Lebanon reminiscent of that of the civil war of 1975-1990.

But the Lebanese ruling class, accused of mismanagement, corruption and blatant neglect, continues to cling to power as people suffer from shortages of fuel, medicine and clean water.

“This ruling class is killing us every day,” said Ms. Hasrouty. “Those who didn't die in the explosion are starving,” she said.

Bakeries ration bread, power cuts can last up to 23 hours a day, streets are dark at night and traffic lights are out of order.

The explosion, “it was a nightmare”, recalls Lara Khatchikian, from her very damaged apartment which she has since repaired, from where she sees the port. The fire in the silos revived it.

“My neighbors and I were constantly stressed. I felt fear, we couldn't sleep. It takes superhuman strength to live when you are constantly reminded of the explosion,” she says.

In April, the government ordered the demolition of the silos, but this has been put on hold, including due to objections from relatives of victims who want them kept as a place of remembrance.

French civil engineer Emmanuel Durand, who monitors the silos, warned that the risk of 'a new partial or total collapse had “never been so high”.

The investigation is also at risk of collapse, as the lead investigator, Tarek Bitar, has been prevented from continuing his mission by a series of lawsuits brought against him and a campaign led in particular by the powerful armed movement of Hezbollah, a heavyweight in local political life.

On Wednesday, independent experts from the United Nations and NGOs called for the opening of an international investigation “without delay”, stressing that it was “clear today more than ever that the national inquiry could not do justice.