What's Happening in Lebanon? Focus on the New Government, Fuel Tank Blast, & Weakening Economy
While there is a global crisis of Covid-19, Lebanon has been experiencing crippling fuel and power shortages since late 2019. Fuel shortages in Lebanon are driving the country to the brink, otherwise making it 'unlivable.’
The recent fuel tank explosion in Akkar region in Lebanon speaks volumes of the situation in the country. Lebanon is not only grappling with soaring poverty and plummeting currency but also dire fuel shortages.
But what is more devastating than a fuel explosion of 60,000 liters of gasoline amidst a fuel shortage in a country experiencing a stifling economic crisis?
Where is Lebanon?
Lebanon is in the continent of Asia, located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel borders it to the South and Syria to the east and north.
Lebanon is a narrow strip of territory and one of the world's smaller sovereign states with an area of 10,452 square kilometers. The estimated population of Lebanon as of 2020 is 6,825,445 people.
Beirut is the capital city of Lebanon, and Arabic is the official language. French is widely used in Lebanon- a legacy of France’s colonial rule.
What is causing the fuel shortages in Lebanon?
Fuel shortages in Lebanon have left thousands of families going days without electricity. Those who are fortunate enough end up with only two hours of electricity in a day.
Some notable factors have led to the drastic fuel shortages in Lebanon. Two main factors are smuggling and the black market.
Fuel has been smuggled to Syria, leaving the Lebanese in dire need of fuel. The fuel black market in Lebanon has flourished in the recent past, something that, similar to smuggling, has left the country in desperate need of fuel.
Account of the fuel tank explosion in Akkar
On Sunday 15th August 2021, a fuel tank exploded in Akkar, leading to the death of at least 28 and severe injuries to at least 80 people. The Akkar explosion came less than two weeks after Lebanon marked the first anniversary of the Beirut port explosion that killed at least 214, wounded thousands, and destroyed parts of the capital.
Following the fuel shortages in Lebanon and the decision of the central bank to end subsidies for fuel products, the army was manning fuel stations to prevent owners from waiting to take advantage of the high fuel prices in the coming days. The army was also confiscating fuel from black marketers and smugglers- all for the benefit of the people.
On Sunday, the 15th of August 2021, the army was distributing gasoline it had confiscated from a hidden storage tanker to locals in Akkar, one of the poorest towns in Lebanon. At least 200 people were at the explosion site, all trying to get a share in their plastic bags.
Until now, there is no clarity as to what led to the explosion. However, eyewitnesses and reliable sources cite two possible causes: a lighter and gunshots.
It is said that someone in the crowd used a lighter, which led to the explosion. Another account states that gunshots were fired, following the flocking of people to fill their plastic containers straight from the tank as quoted from a security source:
"There was a rush of people, and arguments between some of them led to gunfire which hit the tank of gasoline and so it exploded.”
The casualties included civilians, members of the army, and security forces.
The devastating health sector in Lebanon
The Akkar explosion exposed the wanting hospital state in Akkar and Lebanon at large.
Those severely injured could not be admitted because the hospitals do not have the facilities to attend to severe burns. In a statement, Dr. Salah Ishaq of al-Salam Hospital noted regarding those in serious condition: "We can't accommodate them. We don't have the capabilities. It's a very bad situation."
One, there are no facilities to accommodate severely injured patients, and two, the fuel situation in the country does not allow it. Thus, severe cases were sent abroad for treatment.
Hospitals in Lebanon, private and public, are at risk of closing down because of the ongoing fuel shortage in the country. For example, some do not have diesel to power generators, something that risks hundreds of lives.
A long path ahead for Lebanon's new Government
Lebanon's richest man, Najib Mikati, was announced as the new Prime Minister yesterday. A new cabinet will help to address the economic issues in Lebanon. But that is not enough. The Lebanese government should stop political disputes and serve the needs of the people.
The Akkar fuel tank explosion has been met with a lot of attention because the country is yet to heal from the Beirut explosion. The Beirut explosion led to the resignation of the then prime minister and his cabinet.
Surprisingly, it has taken a long time for a new government to be formed following the political wrangling in Lebanon. Perhaps this new government can help address the economic crisis in Lebanon, including but not limited to the currency and fuel shortages.
The former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri told on Twitter that "The Akkar massacre is no different from the (Beirut) port massacre” and added that the Lebanese officials, including the president, should take responsibility and resign.
Lebanon is in an economic crisis. Something even more devastating is the lives lost due to the Akkar explosion.
International bodies must step in and help Lebanon amidst its fuel shortage crisis. It is also important that people step in and support the people of Lebanon in whatever way possible.
Lebanon deserves safety. Perhaps the Akkar explosion might probably be the beginning of the political, social, and economic healing of the people of Lebanon. We have to wait and see.
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Nondiah Khalayi is a Kenya-based Statistics and Programming student at Kenyatta University, a Health Science student at the University of the People, and also a Content Writer at IYOPS. Being an INFJ-T personality, she enjoys a calm life, coding, data analysis, reading, and writing multiple-niche research-based articles.
Inputs and Edits by Sovena Ngeth and Aswin Raghav R.