"Negligence and ineptitude can have fatal consequences."
“Our own government killed us. Our own government left us to die,” a woman who occupied the Foreign Ministry building in Beirut told the BBC in an interview.
The Lebanese are expressing their outrage over two explosions, with the second immensely more powerful than the first, that occurred at the port of Beirut on Tuesday. Some 158 people died, more than 6,000 were injured, and dozens more are missing. An estimated 300,000 people lost their homes and the damage to buildings and infrastructure has gone up to the billions of dollars.
The United States Geological Survey characterized the blast as a seismic event of magnitude 3.3. It was reportedly felt in Turkey, Syria, Israel as well as parts of Europe, and was heard in Cyprus which was more than 250 kilometers away from the port.
The explosion was caused by more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate at a warehouse at the port. The chemical is widely used as fertilizer but is also used in making explosives. Authorities are still investigating the proximate cause of the blasts, and even whether some groups are responsible.
Nonetheless, people are angry because no safety measures were implemented by the government given the presence of the chemicals, allowed to sit in the warehouse for six years.
The same woman said: “We used to be afraid, but now, we have nothing to lose.” Prior to the blasts, Lebanon has been suffering from an economic crisis, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic which, like in most places in other parts of the world, has overwhelmed hospitals.
The police have stepped in to contain the protesters, but the situation continues to be tense. Indeed such a tragedy could not have occurred at a worse time, when people are reeling from a health crisis as well as an economic meltdown.
The events in Beirut are not far removed from us here. At least four Filipinos died and 42 were injured from the blasts. The rest of the Filipino workers there face even more uncertain days—if they had not lost their overseas jobs because of the virus, they just might do so now. And once they hurdle the long and difficult process of coming home amid the pandemic, they face prospects of joblessness in an economy that contracted by 16.5 percent the previous quarter.
We can imagine the rage and frustration of the Lebanese over a disaster that could have been prevented. Life was already difficult as it was. We commiserate with them as we are reminded that there is no such thing as an accident—the sins of negligence, ineptitude and even indecision can also have deadly consequences.
Sadly, we know that all too well in this country, too.