Instead of clearing up the Lebanese state is cracking downby Lizzie Porter / August 19, 2020 / Leave a comment
In the gathering darkness, three men are bending to the pavement on Pasteur Street in east Beirut, sorting rubber tubing from shattered glass from splintered wood. These are what remains of once-cherished belongings after an enormous explosion tore through the Lebanese capital’s seaport on 4th August. “I feel dead inside,” said one of the men, shaking his arms and glove-clad hands, as if trying to force energy back into his body. “It will take 15 years to repair this area, I reckon. But the effort of me doing this kind of work is nothing compared with the pain of those who’ve lost someone.”
The men said they were handing the blast debris over to a civil society organisation that is recycling the ruins spewed from homes during the blast, which was caused by nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored nearby. The explosion, which registered at a magnitude of 3.3 on the Richter scale, killed at least 178 people, and left 6,000 more injured, according to UN figures.
The central government and Beirut Municipality have been widely criticised for failing to properly lead the disaster response, leaving significant clear-up efforts in the hands of contractor companies and volunteers brandishing brooms and dustpans. Amid public anger, Lebanon’s cabinet resigned last week, landing the country with a caretaker leadership and an extended state of emergency. That gives the army wide-ranging powers to enter homes, make arrests, and curb freedom of assembly and the media.
Officials admit they were not prepared for the disaster. “It was state of emergency. It was chaos,” said a Beirut Municipality official. “We don’t have a proper crisis management team or unit, neither within the Municipality of Beirut, nor within the state of Lebanon.” The official claimed that Lebanon instead relied on, “more of a culture of resilience upon the citizens, rather than on institutions.” Emergency planning would need, “manpower, financial investment and kind of a vision,” he said.
Debris and rubble from the blast is being handled over multiple dumping sites, according to waste management workers and civil society activists. The web of teams at work is complex. The dumps are located in and around Beirut, and experts believe at least one of them contains asbestos. Last week, tons of unsorted rubbish appeared in a…