Beirut (dpa) – On the first anniversary of the massive explosion in the port of Beirut, relatives angrily and tearfully demanded clarification of the causes.
At what is now the third aid conference for Lebanon on Wednesday, France offered the prospect of an additional 100 million euros to promote education and health in the crisis, among other things. French President Emmanuel Macron accused Lebanese politics of failure at all levels. Human Rights Watch presented new evidence to support allegations that the government could have prevented the explosion.
“It’s a sad day for all Lebanese – although we survived this massive explosion, we are dead inside,” said Rita Hassan, whose home was destroyed in the disaster. “Since yesterday I have been in pain all over my body, as if the scars on my wounds were open again,” said Enaam Kajal, who was seriously injured and had to be stitched up with more than 200 stitches. Relatives, doctors, nurses and protesters with national flags gathered in the harbor and in the city center of Beirut.
Dead, wounded, destruction
The explosion on August 4, 2020 killed more than 190 people and injured about 6,000. The relatives even speak of 218 dead. Large parts of the harbor and adjacent residential areas were massively destroyed. The situation in Lebanon, which is experiencing the worst economic crisis in decades and struggling with the corona pandemic, was exacerbated by the explosion.
President Michel Aoun promised justice for the victims on Tuesday evening. “The truth will come out and all the guilty will be punished,” Aoun said in a televised address. “You will rise again,” he told the “beloved capital Beirut”.
France, as a former mandate power closely linked to Lebanon, invited another donor conference. 300 million euros would be needed, it was said in Élysée circles. According to information from Paris, the first two conferences raised more than €530 million. However, the necessary major reforms have not yet taken place. “There will be no blank check for the political system,” Macron assured. Aid funds should benefit the population directly and their use should be monitored.
Crisis “largely man-made”
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the crisis as “largely man-made”. Any further aid — beyond emergency aid and support for reform — will depend on the formation of a functioning, legitimate government and the establishment of a credible reform program, Maas said. Germany promised another 40 million euros for the population. US President Joe Biden is also expected to attend the conference.
Shops and public facilities in Beirut were closed on Wednesday, flags were flown at half-mast and programs on TV and radio stations were changed. A large church service was planned for the evening in the harbor, and there were also services in hospitals. Pope Francis again called for help in his first general audience after the summer recess. The 84-year-old also reiterated his wish to visit Lebanon.
Many bereaved families are outraged by the slow process of coming to terms with it. “We just want to see justice,” cried the sister of a firefighter who died in the explosion. Families of other firefighters who died also moved to the harbor. “Hostages from a murderous state” was written on a huge banner.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has provided new evidence to support allegations that the government could have prevented the explosion. Despite multiple warnings about the highly explosive chemical ammonium nitrate, which allegedly caused the explosion in the port, the government took no action, HRW writes in a 127-page report. For nearly six years, the equipment had been in a poorly ventilated and inadequately secured hangar – in the middle of a densely populated commercial and residential area.
A year later, Beirut is still severely affected by the accident and many people are missing the essentials. 70 percent of households have asked for support, says UN children’s aid agency Unicef. 98 percent of them still need help, especially money for food. According to the World Bank, the explosion caused damage estimated at $4.6 billion.