On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, over 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate combusted in the Port of Beirut, causing irreparable damage to the entire city. The blast killed over 150 people, injured more than 5,000, and rendered 300,000 people homeless.
The explosion happened in the midst of a worsening economic crisis that has devalued the Lebanese lira and financially strangled the everyday citizen. Prior to August 4th's event, 75% of Lebanon's population was living at or below the poverty line. Making matters worse, the blast wiped out 85% of the country’s grain reserves and destroyed the entirety of the port of Beirut, the country's main economic lifeline.
The blast devastated Beirut in a matter of seconds. Densely populated and economically vital neighborhoods close to the port were destroyed. Buildings were damaged up to 6 miles away and windows were shattered up to 15 miles away. The shock wave from the explosion was felt 150 miles away in Cyprus and registered as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake.
In 2014, a Russian ship on its way to Mozambique docked in the port of Beirut due to financial difficulties and unrest among the crew. Shortly thereafter, the ship was abandoned and port officials confiscated the ship’s cargo, storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in a hangar located in close proximity to Beirut's densely populated city center. On August 4, 2020, a fire in the neighboring warehouse ignited the ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in explosives like TNT, causing the explosion. It is unclear what started the fire.
In 2019, the Lebanese government, which is largely corrupt and does not provide large parts of its population with basic services such as electricity, water, and waste management, found itself owing over $80 billion (~185% of GDP) in borrowed debt. Corrupt politicians moved the billions they borrowed into offshore accounts and the resulting monetary vacuum decimated the Lebanese economy.
In October 2019, people took to the streets of Beirut to the government's corruption and failure to provide for its citizens. Over 1 million Lebanese, irrespective of religion or social class, united in protest to demand an immediate change in government. These protests persisted for weeks and permeated throughout Lebanese communities globally.
As the protests gained steam, The Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, resigned and called for special elections. While a new Prime Minister in Hassan Diab was elected, with much of the ministry being replaced, real change failed to materialize.
Since then, as the economic crisis has deepened, in part due to foreign refusal to offer economic aid, the Lebanese Pound has lost over 80% of its value. Irresponsible fiscal policies led by the Central Bank resulted in unsustainable borrowing measures and rapid inflation.
The Lebanese Pound's devaluation has crippled Lebanon’s ability to pay for imports, which account for 80% of the country’s consumption. Business closures, soaring unemployment, and rising hunger were major issues before the port explosion.