This morning, the world woke up to more devastating news that was not about the number of deaths or people hospitalised due to the coronavirus but from a huge explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. We, like most people around the world, have been staying home to stay safe. We have been taking all precautions of hand sanitisation, wearing of masks, and avoiding personal contacts. However, for many in and around Beirut, these precautions were no defence for what occurred on Tuesday (Lebanon’s local time).
The facts around the incident are still emerging and as yet unclear, but early data on the effects of the explosion are being reported – that of over 78 deaths and more than 4,000 suffering injuries in the explosions and subsequent fire. The force of the explosion damaged cars and buildings a mile away from the blast and toxic gases have filled the air of the whole city. Images and videos are appearing on social media showing most horrific images.
The human cost of this will last over many days, months and years as the direct toll but also from the indirect effects. What will be reported are the direct costs of those injured, those who lost their lives and the level of property damage. However, what about the families and relatives of those that are indirectly impacted? For my family and I, we are more glued to our screens today and trying to connect with our loved ones, near and far, in Lebanon.
We left Lebanon during the early years of the civil war of 1975 to 1990 and we were so fortunate to have the education and opportunities offered to us in Western countries of Canada and Australia. We worked hard and grabbed every chance that was available as we knew that our brothers and sisters in Lebanon were not so advantaged. As well, we carried this responsibility of needing to give back to our homeland and sustain our connection in all aspects. This is most notable in the establishment of foundations to support causes back in the country as well as seeking opportunities to ensure that our young Australian Lebanese are connected with Lebanon.
In the summer of 2019, I had the privilege of accompanying 9 undergraduate and masters’ students to undertake an internship in Beirut, Lebanon for a month. The spirit of the program was to link young people of Lebanese origin with the country at a professional and cultural level. We were in-country from mid-June to mid-July and spent the majority of our time in and around the district that has now been turned to rubble. In addition, we visited the Australian embassy and our ambassador, Rebecca Grindley, met and discussed Australia’s role in the country. Our thoughts are very much with all those we had met, as these are not numbers but faces of most generous and hospitable people.
The economic cost of this incident is large in scale. It has occurred in a period of time when the country is managing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as severe economic hardship. The impact of the release of toxic smoke and other chemicals in the water and land on the citizens’ health will be felt for many years to come. The question that we can’t help but ask is to what extent will the region and/or country receive a level of financial support from the local and international community similar to what we had observed for the Notre Dame Cathedral explosion/fire of 15 April 2019? The fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral, which fortunately saw no major casualties led to over $1.1 billion dollars being donated by the global community – will Lebanon be overlooked now at this moment of devastation or will the global community rise to the occasion as we must do whenever such a tragedy occurs?