Lebanon facing ‘perfect storm’ of devastation after deadly blast, unrest: expert

Even before a pair of explosions in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut tore a vicious streak of death and damage through the city last week, the country was already grappling with a severe economic and political crisis.

Now, the blasts combined with the coronavirus pandemic, rampant unrest and political corruption have created what one expert in an interview with The West Block is calling a “perfect storm” of devastation.

“All in all, it’s the perfect storm of everything awful that could happen to a beautiful country and people,” said Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation and a leading Canadian voice on political affairs in the region.

No official cause has yet been determined but officials in Lebanon have said the likely explanation was the accidental detonation of roughly 2,700 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate stored in a port warehouse following confiscation by authorities six years ago.

The resulting explosion registered on seismic monitors hundreds of kilometres away and blew out the windows in the city’s airport roughly 10 kilometres from the blast site, leaving roughly 300,000 people homeless.

But the devastation follows roiling protests that have gripped the country for nearly a year — the latest in decades of civil unrest in the country — resulting from widespread anger over political corruption, sectarian violence, economic stagnation and lack of jobs, and a lack of reliable access to essential services including hydro and drinking water.