by Camryn Myrla, staff writer
OCTOBER 2021 – At least 28 people were left dead following a fuel tank explosion near Beirut, Lebanon on Aug. 15. The tank, illegally hidden by an unknown source, was being seized by the Lebanese army due to an ongoing fuel shortage affecting the entire country. People were lining up to receive gasoline, which was also a result of banks putting extreme restrictions on who could make withdrawals. Tensions arose even more when a militant group, Hezbollah, announced it would be forming a new government.
Significant problems began to rise in October 2019 when the economy crashed. Public debt was growing. The banking sector — the industry that handles all things finance — was functionally bankrupt. Hundreds of thousands of citizens began to protest these conditions, causing the entire country’s cabinet to resign. Soon after, banks began to add harsh restrictions on withdrawals, meaning people were struggling to gain access to their own money. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that 77 percent of Lebanese families do not have enough food or enough money to buy food.
Conditions only became worse after the Beirut Port explosion in August 2020. A large fire in a warehouse ended in a massive explosion, killing more than 200 people. This blast, caused by the fire interacting with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, was 10 percent of the size of the atomic bomb used on Nagasaki during World War Two in 1945. Approximately 300,000 people were left homeless.
The snowball effect continues to this day. Due to the government’s scarce resources, fuel imports have been limited and raised to a much higher price. Issa Petrol Trade, a leading fuel company in Lebanon, announced that a gallon of unleaded gas costs 202,400 Lebanese pounds, which roughly translates to $132.89 in the U.S..
Tamara Qiblawi, a CNN reporter for Lebanon, took to Twitter to discuss the hardships citizens face, “No fuel means no food. No fuel means no irrigation. No fuel means no trucks to transport whatever food and drinking water might be left. Perhaps it is time to start calling the situation in Lebanon for what it is. Not a crisis. Not a disaster. But a death sentence.”
The entire country was in political stalemate for over a year until it was announced on Sept. 10 that a new government would be formed.
This government would primarily be run by Hezbollah, a political party and militant group. The group, whose name translates to “Party of Allah,” has been labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States. Its political wing has been involved with the Lebanese government since 1992. The group has stated that one of their main goals is to achieve a “true democracy” by ending foreign occupation.
Cooper Lappe, a sophomore, knew about a separate issue occurring in Lebanon. “I believe there’s a massive refugee crisis going on there,” he stated, referring to Syrians seeking asylum in their neighboring country. Of the six million citizens in Lebanon, at least one million are refugees from Syria.
The crises that Lebanon is going through also affect the United States. The U.S. Department of State reported that more than $4 billion had been dedicated towards foreign assistance to Lebanon since 2010. Additionally, the U.S. and Lebanon have had a strong relationship when it comes to trade, which is currently at risk– one of our major exports to Lebanon is fuel.
However, conditions seemed to be slowly improving. The newly formed government received a funding injection from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They were able to receive $1.135 billion in Special Drawing Rights, an asset used by the IMF in place of actual currency. Yet, Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, believed this was nowhere near enough money to heal the economy completely.
“It’s [worth] less than one month of fuel imports. That said, this money today has to be used wisely and transparently,” Nader told Al Jazeera, a Middle Eastern news channel.
Despite this, the future of Lebanon can not be known for sure.
Interviews with other Bio-Med students revealed that most of the events taking place in Lebanon weren’t widely known.
“I don’t know anything about that,” a junior, Tessa Wood, claimed. “I could point it out on a map, but nothing really else.”
The ninth grade history teacher, Mr. William Ullinger, knew how complex and nuanced the situation was. He also mentioned how it could be difficult to discuss issues in countries outside of the U.S.
“People don’t want to pay attention to it because they don’t want to get to a point where…. You do not want to seem xenophobic for speaking against human rights issues in other countries.”
Ullinger believed that Lebanon’s mixture of religion and government makes it even harder to talk about what has been going on. “You should do it without looking at religion at all, and just as a human rights issue. But religion is so intertwined in [Lebanon] that it’s hard to.”
To learn more about donating to those in need, visit the Lebanon Red Cross website.