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Pledges of help, but questions and anger, too, for Lebanon after Beirut blast

10 August 2020


A boy visits the Port of Beirut on Monday, after the explosion there that killed at least 220 people last week

A boy visits the Port of Beirut on Monday, after the explosion there that killed at least 220 people last week

THE Beirut explosion is a “devastating tragedy”, a statement from the Anglican diocese of Jerusalem says.

In a joint statement, the Archbishop, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, and the Bishop, the Very Revd Hosam Naoum, said last week that the people of Beirut were still “shocked and stunned” while “trying to understand what has really happened”.

At least 220 people were killed and 5000 were injured by the explosion last Tuesday. It is still being investigated, but the immediate cause is considered to be the igniting of 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been stored unsafely since 2013.

Anti-government protests broke out in Beirut on Thursday, blaming government negligence for the explosion. Lebanese security forces used tear gas in clashes with angry demonstrators. Sixteen people have been taken into custody as part of the investigation, and three cabinet ministers have resigned.​

Also on Thursday, the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, called for governments to give financial assistance to Lebanon. The UN’s Lebanese Humanitarian fund has donated $9 million, and the UK has given £5 million and pledged a further £20 million.

On Monday evening, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Hassan Diab, announced his resignation, saying that meaningful change was needed to address the country’s corruption issues. President Michel Aoun has asked the government to continue in a “caretaker” capacity until a new cabinet can be formed.

Three cabinet ministers have also resigned, while 16 people have been taken into custody as part of the investigation.

At an online international summit at the weekend, President Emmanuel Macron of France, who visited Beirut last week, said that the authorities needed to address the country’s problems with corruption, and he called for an international investigation into the explosion.

The Chaplain to the Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Revd Dr Donald Binder, wrote on his Facebook page last week that “tens of thousands of dollars are likely needed to repair the parish hall and vestry” of All Saints’, Beirut, and that, “miraculously, the stained glass in the church itself held firm so there is no damage there, though there is some in the sacristy. There is also no damage to St. Luke’s School in the more distant mountains. However, there was much damage to many of our parishioners’ apartments and to our complex at the Near Eastern School of Theology.”

The American Friends of the diocese have launched an appeal for the diocese, and to enable All Saints’ to help its neighbours affected by the blast.

The altar of the Greek Orthodox Church of St Dimitrios, in the Achrafieh area of Beirut also survived the blast. It was less than a kilometre away from the explosion; the nave was ruined, but iconostasis protected the sanctuary, and a sanctuary lamp continued to burn there.

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, has appealed for donations to a Church Mission Society Fund for those affected by the blast.

“We know that thousands of people have been injured, and the hospitals that were already stretched to breaking point by Covid-19 on top of significant financial challenges are struggling to give the care that people need. Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes — the problems are almost beyond comprehension,” he said.

“We are in touch with a church right in the port area of Beirut which has already started giving practical help to those caught up in this tragedy, but could do more with the assistance of outside resources. CMS has set up a Just Giving page to raise money to help in this effort, and I would urge my brothers and sisters in the diocese of Truro to please consider giving what they can.”

Tearfund’s country director for Lebanon, Karen Soerensen, spoke of the part played by churches and NGOs in helping people on the ground: “Our partners are distributing thousands of hot meals, as well as vouchers to enable those most in need to buy food and essential household and hygiene items. Our partner churches and faith organisations are giving emotional support to families and some are providing shelter for those who have lost their homes.”

Hans Bederski, national director of World Vision Lebanon, said: “This disaster could not come at a worse time for Lebanon. We’re seeing a sharp increase in Covid-19 infections, and the hospitals are already at stretched capacity. The port is the only port of entry for fuel and other goods.

“This country is already on its knees with the economic crisis, and now entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed, with families left homeless and devastated by loss. This is a crisis on top of a crisis for the people of Lebanon.”

The Barnabas Fund, in a statement, said: “The explosion particularly affected East Beirut’s Christian neighbourhoods, damaging churches and Christian ministries, with many Christians amongst the injured, homeless and dead. It also destroyed the grain silos at the port, where most of the country’s supplies of wheat were stored. Bread is the staple food in Lebanon. Another terrible blow is the loss of huge stores of medicines, which were housed near to the place of the explosion.”

The director of Christian Aid’s partner organisation Basmeh and Zeitooneh (The Smile and the Olive), Fadi Hallisso, said: “The last few days I have been having so many mixed emotions, some anger and frustration over the evil of negligence and corruption that permitted such a catastrophe to happen; but at the same time I had a great feeling that the solidarity of people can overcome this; the solidarity of youth on the streets, but also the solidarity we are seeing from abroad, people from all over the world calling to check on us as to how they can help make things easier.”

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