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Disaster in Lebanon by Karen Kfoury and Rebeka Chwah

My name is Karen Kfoury, I am fifteen years old, I am a student in grade ten of high school, and I live in Achrafieh, one of the oldest districts of Beirut. My name is Rebeka Chwah, I am 18 years old, I am a first year psychology student at the Lebanese American University, and I live in Dekwaneh, a suburb north of Beirut.

Decades ago, the Lebanese Civil War broke out, in which non-Christian Lebanese people fought for their rights as citizens because they were not being properly represented in the government, as the leader of their country at the time was Christian. The war finally ended when the Taif Agreement was signed in 1989, expelling the influence of foreign countries in Lebanese territory and effectively ending the war. The war might be over now, but tension between the Shias and the Sunnis remain to this day.

Since then, Lebanon has been unstable. Thirty-three percent of its citizens, living below the poverty line, haven’t had proper access to basic human needs such as water, electricity, Wifi, or even safe roads. Thirty percent of the population live their lives in comfort, disregarding the dreadful situation that the rest of the country has been experiencing. After many years of painful silence, the Lebanese people finally came together on October 17, 2019, after the Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, attempted to increase the prices of taxes, tobacco, gas, and even Whatsapp. Protesters of all ages and religions marched. They chanted, recited the national anthem, and sang and danced together. Priests and Sheikhs walked together as a sign of unity, marking the end of sectarianism. The protesters demanded basic services such as healthcare, transportation, and stable electricity (as Lebanon only offers about half of the electricity needed).

In October, the Lebanese pound lost 86% of its value, and right now, the inflation rate in Lebanon is the 3rd highest in the world (before $1=1500 lbp, now $1=8,000/10,000 lbp) causing prices to rise rapidly. Moreover, the spread of Covid-19 across the country caused unemployment to reach 40%, and those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs were still paid much less than they should be. My mother, for example, who has taken care of my siblings and I for over 25 years, used to work at a private school. She lost her job and is still unemployed because the institution can’t afford to pay her. Our situation was so bad, she even considered leaving the country, as millions of Lebanese had done before her. My aunt is also a single mother, and she works in a paint manufacturing company as a senior accountant. She used to be paid $900 per month, stretching it to pay the mortgage, our school tuition, put food on the table, afford transportation, and much more, but now she gets nothing.

The cherry on top of the Lebanese economic crisis occurred yesterday when an explosion destroyed much of Beirut, along with the hope of its citizens. The explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, negligently stocked in the port of the capital for over 6 years, was even heard from Cyprus, Turkey, and Greece. I, fortunately, wasn’t near the explosion when it happened. I was in Zaarour, a village 40 km away from Beirut, but I heard the explosion as if it were next to me. It was so loud I thought that the explosion had happened under my house. The electricity went out for a couple minutes, then my father received a call announcing that our house in Beirut, where my grandmother was living alone, was in complete chaos. The glass was shattered and strewn across the floor. The kitchen door was broken, and the furniture had been uprooted and thrown about. My grandmother went to her neighbor’s house in terror, just to find her covered in blood, screaming in agony.

The scenery on the news, on the other hand, was heart wrenching and looked like it came straight out of a horror movie, but the news can only cover 1/4 of what is really happening. There are corpses laying everywhere on the ground, people covered in blood crying for help, glass shattered on the streets, buildings of history destroyed, mothers looking for their children, men half buried in cement helplessly crying their eyes out. It is the most traumatizing experience Lebanon has faced in years.

Hospitals, already struggling with shortages of medications, room for patients, and extreme cases of Covid-19, weren’t at all ready for this catastrophe. The first instinct of the survivors was to rush to the nearest hospitals, Roum and St. George’s, but they were already at capacity caring for more than 600 people who were injured and on the brink of death. As a result, some people were put up in parking lots and on the street. The Red Cross set up first-aid tents outside, worked by nurses and medical staff. Imagine the pressure of having to perform a surgery on the sidewalk, in the darkness, without the necessary supplies, tools, or medications.

In the midst of the crisis, brought about by the explosion of ammonium nitrate, the contrast between the rich and the poor is even more stark: the wealthy sit on their patios eating expensive lunches, while the working class is doing everything in its power to find their lost possessions and retrieve their lost loved ones from the debris of the explosion, not knowing if they are alive or dead. Other citizens are offering their homes as shelters to those who became homeless, in addition to food. The solidarity among the Lebanese really jumped out during this traumatic experience.

Every penny that comes from foreign aid has been taken by militia leaders and warlords who disguise themselves as politicians and use the money for their own benefit, at the expense of our nation’s. Even worse, since all of our products are imported and therefore stocked in the docks, they were burned down as a result of the explosion. The government, who is completely responsible for this catastrophe, as they are aware, for storing the dangerous chemical there near an overly-populated area of 2.2 million people, hasn’t spoken up or taken any responsibility for their negligence until now. It is the accumulation of their incompetence, corruption, lassitude, amateurism, and uncaring attitude that caused the explosion.

What has happened is really horrific and devastating, but what is yet to come will be the true nightmare. Having to rebuild the capital for the eighth time, with the country already in severe economic crisis, and newly reduced to rubble, we ask ourselves, how will we possibly afford to rebuild? How will the hospitals manage thousands of victims, while taking precautions to mitigate the spread of Covid-19? How will the citizens get back on their feet again, having to feed their families, yet unable to work?

Our country has been experiencing an economic crisis for many many years, yet our situation has received no attention from the media. We feel forsaken and neglected, as if our lives don’t matter. It has been our battle to fight alone, and we are still fighting.

To assist the Lebanese people in this crisis, donate to the links below:

Just Giving Site:

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