Governments must learn from Lebanon’s catastrophe

17 September 2020
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Updated 17 September 2020

Governments must learn from Lebanon’s catastrophe

A few weeks ago, I wrote: “Lebanon is in the news yet again” after the explosions in Beirut’s port on Aug. 4, in which close to 200 people passed away and 300,000 were left homeless. Just over a month later – on Sept. 10 – all TV channels and news outlets focused on the same country, the same city, the same port once more.

A fire broke out last Thursday and we all witnessed billowing black smoke on TV and social media networks, we all saw the courageous firefighters trying to control the blaze, we all watched, shocked and appalled, as this all too familiar image repeated itself.

Last month, many people fled the city to find refuge in the mountains. Today, traumatised, scared and with the vivid images of those horrific incidents still in their minds, families are escaping Beirut for fear of repercussions or smoke inhalation.

With the recurrence of incidents such as these, it is not surprising that the Lebanese people are asking for a change in governance. From personal friends and people interviewed on TV, it is clear that people have lost hope and have forsaken their dreams. What lies ahead is heart-breaking, to say the least. Faced with the task of rebuilding the city, or even of just creating a healthy environment for their children and putting food on their plates, it is no wonder that so many – especially those who can afford it or who hold degrees – are emigrating simply in search of a secure life, leaving behind a potentially beautiful model of diverse religious and ethnic coexistence.

Governments in the region must learn from these catastrophic events. One lesson is that, unfortunately, many Arab and developing countries lack the expertise, the machinery and the high-tech equipment to either detect or rescue victims after such incidents. And even before they occur, more focus should be placed on crisis management, security measures and the value of human life through stringent safety regulations. Quality training should be extensively provided — training not just of people but also of animals. We all watched in awe as Flash, the rescue dog which was brought over with the Topos team from Chile, detected a faint heartbeat in the rubble weeks after the first explosion. Sadly, the heart stopped beating before rescuers were able to recover the victim.  

Aid pours into Lebanon from around the world, including from the Kingdom, but questions must be answered. What started the fire? Was the heat to blame or was it some human error? Was it an accident, negligence or intentional? As I write these words, it is too soon to tell as the investigation is still going on.

For the sake of the Lebanese people, for the sake of their children and their future, I truly hope that a credible investigation is carried out and punitive measures are taken to stop the culprits from continuing to abuse the country. Once again… and as always… my prayers are with the people of Lebanon.

• Hoda Al-Helaissi has been a member of the Shoura Council since 2013. She is also a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee within the Shoura.