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A Year Since the Beirut Explosion What has Changed

A year after the largest non-nuclear explosions in world’s history, no sight of justice.

Beirut Explosion: On August 4, 2020, the capital city of Lebanon was rocked by a massive explosion on the city’s port. It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in the world’s history. The blast ripped through the entire city and damaged more than half of the city.

The explosion resulted from the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a combustible chemical compound. The cargo had entered Beirut’s port on a Moldovan-flagged ship, the Rhosus, in November 2013, and had been offloaded into hangar 12 in Beirut’s port on October 23 and 24, 2014.

Extent of Damage

The Beirut explosion killed 218 people, wounded 7,000 people, and damaged 77,000 apartments, displacing over 300,000 people. At least three children between the ages of 2 and 15 lost their lives. At least thirty-one children required hospitalization, and 1,000 children were injured. The explosion damaged 163 public and private schools and left half of Beirut’s healthcare centers non-functional, and it impacted 56 percent of the private businesses. There was extensive damage to infrastructure, including transport, energy, water supply and sanitation, and municipal services totaling a massive US$390-475 million in losses. According to the World Bank, the Beirut explosion caused an estimated $3.8-4.6 billion in material damage.

The blast prompted then Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet to resign days after the explosion. He blamed the explosion on the corrupt system.

Justice Delayed

Even after a year of the deadly Beirut explosion, attempts at judicial inquiries over the past year have led to several dozen bureaucrats being detained, but leaders have refused to be questioned or to vote in favor of lifting immunity that protects them from prosecution.  In the absence of an impartial probe, it has fallen to local lawyers, journalists, and civil society actors to explore the circumstances around the arrival of the Russian freighter and what then happened to the ammonium nitrate unloaded from it.

In an extensive investigative report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday appealed for an international probe into the blast, accusing Lebanese authorities of trying to stall the investigation.

The report said a lack of judicial independence, constitution-imposed immunity for high-level officials, and a range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation rendered it “incapable of credibly delivering justice.”

More than 20 security, port, and customs officials have so far been arrested as part of an investigation into the explosion led by Judge Fadi Sawan.

Mr Diab, the caretaker Prime Minister, and the three former ministers – Ali Hassan Khalil, Youssef Finyanus, and Ghazi Zaiter – are the first politicians to have been charged.

One Year Anniversary

On Wednesday, tens of thousands of Lebanese gathered near the Beirut port to mark the anniversary of the Beirut explosion. A moment of silence was observed a little after 6 p.m. local time, around when the explosion occurred last year, as a mark of respect for the more lives lost. Banks, businesses, and government offices were closed as Lebanon observed a National Day of Mourning.

The anniversary comes amid an economic and financial meltdown that followed the blast. A political deadlock has kept Lebanon without a functioning government for a full year.

Lebanese police have clashed with angry protesters demanding accountability for the explosion, a short distance from the main event marking the tragedy’s first anniversary.

The scuffles also broke out near parliament in central Beirut between riot police and stone-lobbing protesters, who tried to storm the main building. Riot police resorted to firing tear gas and water cannon and beating demonstrators with batons.

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Anahita Mir

Anahita Mir is a researcher and oral historian. Anahita has done her Bachelors from Delhi University and is an alumnus of the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, having completed her Masters in 2017.

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