Lebanon Slips Deeper Into The Muck Of Corruption A Year After The Beirut Tragedy

A odour of dead rats pours from towering heaps of rotting grain at the epicentre of Lebanon's catastrophe. Broken silos teeter overhead, their sides blasted apart by the cataclysmic explosion that also shattered Beirut's spirit; the contents that should have fed a country lie strewn across the gaping remains of the city's main port.

One year ago this week, one of the world's worst industrial catastrophes resulted in one of the world's largest ever explosions, destroying a city that was already on the verge of collapse. The high-definition horror of the mushroom cloud of chemicals that ascended over the Lebanese capital on 4 August 2020, as well as the seismic intensity of the shock wave that devastated its houses and businesses, was broadcast across the world. Even in the midst of the disarray of a nation that had permitted this to happen to its citizens, this was undoubtedly a watershed event.

On the one-year anniversary of the catastrophe, though, Lebanon remains paralysed and distraught. The inquiry into the explosion has stalled, and the perpetrators remain as evasive as ever. Worse, for the majority of Lebanese, the international help promised in the aftermath of the catastrophe has been abandoned by the country's leadership, who choose the limited advantages that come to them from a broken system to a worldwide rescue plan that may salvage the country.

“Who would have guessed our begging bowl would be so huge and so empty,” said Tripoli building supplier Nidal Osman. “I'm sure the rest of the world is laughing at us. Instead of receiving money, they were met with a palm in the face. We grieve as they laugh.”

In exchange for up to $11 billion in aid, France wanted fundamental governance changes and complete transparency at all levels of spending. More money from Europe is contingent on an examination of Lebanon's opaque central bank, which has been crucial to the country's wealth mobility.

The Lebanese dinar has lost 15 times its worth in the year since Beirut began cleaning up the pieces. Because to hyperinflation, a large portion of the population is unable to purchase basic foods. Essential medications are no longer available; on Friday, a four-year-old child died from a scorpion sting due to a scarcity of anti-venom. And there isn't enough fuel to keep the electrical industry afloat, let alone the private generator mafia that fills the void at astronomical costs.

Rather than ushering in a new era of redemption, the explosion has come to symbolise the complete dysfunction of a government that has, for all intents and purposes, failed. Its political class is still unable to form a government, fighting over the distribution of ministries as prized fiefdoms. Similarly, state institutions are beholden to entrenched groups. The country's central bank reserves have fallen below the required level, implying that subsidies designed to protect even the middle classes may be phased out soon. Lebanese have joined Syrians and other deserted peoples in crossing the Mediterranean on rafts to escape their dire circumstances, despite the danger.

And there is no way out with the exception of a massive international bailout, which would involve dismantling a system that has been in place for 30 years since the civil war ended.