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Beirut blast threatens hunger after deaths, injuries, and devastation

05 August 2020

Catastrophe in port area makes an already ‘dire situation’ worse


A man carries a child past a damaged building after the explosion in Beirut on Tuesday evening

A man carries a child past a damaged building after the explosion in Beirut on Tuesday evening

THE Archbishop of Canterbury was “praying for all those affected by the terrible explosion in #Beirut today, and for the people of Lebanon”, he said on his Twitter feed on Tuesday evening.

The devastating blast in the Lebanese capital at about 6.30 p.m. (local time) is reported to have been caused by a fire in the port area which ignited 2750 tonnes of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate, an agricultural fertiliser that can also be an explosive. Lebanese news media suggested that this had been confiscated from a Moldovan cargo ship, the Rhosus, in 2014.

The explosion and its shockwave, felt 15km away, left at least 137 people dead and more than 5000 others injured. Rescue workers in Beirut from the Red Cross and other organisations are searching for more than 100 people who are still missing. Tens of thousand of people have been left homeless after the widespread damage to buildings. A two-week state of emergency has been declared.

A video of a live service in the church of St Maron in the Bauchrieh area of Beirut shows debris falling from the ceiling around the altar. It is unclear whether the priest was hurt. An Anglican church in the main commercial area of the capital, near to the Corniche seafront, All Saints’, also suffered damage from the blast.

The moment when the ceiling began to fail on the altar at St Maron’s, Bauchrieh

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, also expressed sympathy for those affected. “All of us are aware of the fragility of human life, its survival and its integrity,” he said. “My prayer is for all the people of Beirut that they will find comfort at this time and that human dignity and respect will flourish in a situation where peace is a virtue and grace is neighbourliness.”

Pope Francis called for people to “pray for the victims, for their families; and let us pray for Lebanon so that, through the dedication of all its social, political, and religious elements, it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment, and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing”.

The high number of casualties has placed hospitals already stretched by the impact of the coronavirus under severe strain. Lebanon also imports most of its food. The large quantities of grain stored in the port destroyed in the blast have increased concerns about widespread food insecurity.

The Lebanese President, Michael Aoun, said that the government would provide 100 billion lira (£50.5 million) of emergency funds. Aid agencies, however, have voiced fears that the impact of the blast could be long-lasting.

Don Binder/Hector PatmoreEffects of the blast on All Saints’ Anglican (Episcopal) Church, Beirut

Christian Aid’s senior advocacy adviser on Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, Máiréad Collins, said:The Covid-19 pandemic has already exposed the Lebanese workforce to a steep drop in living standards. Now, the food crisis will deepen further. The grain stores in the port are completely destroyed. The port is the entry way for Lebanon’s grain imports; they import 90 per cent of their grain for the staple Lebanese bread. This explosion has made a very dire situation worse — with a growing number of Lebanese vulnerable to destitution — and could not have come at a worse time for the besieged country.”

The chief executive of Embrace the Middle East, Tim Livesey, said in a statement: “This is a terrible body blow that can only aggravate an already deeply serious and deteriorating situation in Lebanon. The economy is in a slow-motion free fall. People are unable to support their families. Food is twice or three times as expensive as this time last year.”

Lebanon will observe an official period of mourning for three days from Wednesday. The country’s Supreme Defence Council has also said that those responsible for the explosion will face severe penalties.

The government in Beirut has said that port officials would be placed under house arrest while an investigation is carried out. It has faced severe criticism from residents in the aftermath, after officials reported that inspectors of the site had issued warnings six months ago, saying that the substance had the potential to cause major destruction within the city if it was not removed.

The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for an independent investigation.

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