The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

Lebanon Veers Towards its Breaking Point

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Aug. 4, 2020: a date forever ingrained into the minds of Lebanese at home and abroad. 

This was the date of the Beirut Blast, the nuclear explosion that occurred just off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city. The explosion, a result of public negligence, killed hundreds and injured over 7,000 others, according to the Human Rights Watch.

In its immediate aftermath, Western media was quick to jump on coverage — it condemned the explosion and its link to political corruption and instability that has been permeating the Lebanese government for years. The blast was triggered by the chemical ammonium nitrate that had been carelessly stored at Beirut’s port for years. The explosion, which the World Bank estimates caused $3.8-4.6 billion in material damage, deepened an economic crisis that was in Lebanon’s midst. Since 2019, the Lebanese currency (LBP) has lost 98 percent of its value, according to the World Bank.

As Lebanon marked its three-year anniversary of the Beirut Blast, much of the Western Hemisphere has now fallen silent. Aside a few articles here and there, there has not been substantial Western coverage of the current conditions of Lebanon since 2021. Despite the estimated 0.5 to one million Lebanese-Americans within the United States today, Lebanon seems to have been abandoned from the American public’s eyes. What has happened since then?

According to the Human Rights Watch, in the three years that have followed the explosion, none of the senior Lebanese political and security officials who knew about the ammonium nitrate have been held accountable for their negligence, and Lebanon is on the brink of economic collapse. 

Right now, Lebanon is suffering one of the most severe economic crises that the world has experienced in the past 150 years, as reported by the World Bank. The Lebanese lira (LBP) is in free-fall and now worth almost nothing compared to the United States dollar (USD). This is a rapid decline from the 1960s, when one USD roughly equated to three LBPs. Now, one USD equals 16,000 LBPs. 

Colgate University junior and Lebanese-American Simon Khairallah has traveled to Lebanon six times and has witnessed the impacts of the economic crisis firsthand. 

“Most stories we see rarely address the reality of life on the ground for many Lebanese,” Khairallah said.

Negligence and corruption has been a central issue in Lebanon for years. This level of political corruption also took place within the banking sector. Riad Salameh, former governor of the Central Bank, is a prime example of this governmental corruption. Salameh was elected on the empty promise that he would stabilize the currency and increase foreign investment. This was nowhere near the reality. According to The New York Times, Salameh is now under investigation, charged with laundering $330 million, and widely blamed for the collapse of the central banking system, which reached its height in February and March of 2023, trapping people’s assets. Although Salameh has now been forced to step down, Lebanese residents continue to feel the impacts of his wrongful breach of power. 

“Most banks in Lebanon, especially last summer, limited how much money people could withdraw per month. Along with other factors, this created a black market for USD in Lebanon which rapidly depreciated the value of Lebanese currency.” Khairallah commented. 

As a result of the economic meltdown, quality of life for the Lebanese has rapidly declined, pushing millions of residents below the poverty line. UN News reports that almost 75 percent of the country now lives in multidimensional poverty. As reported by the Human Rights Watch, this has deprived millions of the right to basic amenities, including heating, adequate clothing, internet and medicine

And if this wasn’t enough to make headlines, two years ago, Reuters reported that Lebanon ran out of the foreign currency necessary to purchase fuel and the country was forced to tap into its emergency reserves. Now, The EDL provides inconsistent fuel for no more than one to three hours per day, depending on the region. While some can afford generators, many cannot, which only exacerbates wealth inequality. 

“When I was visiting my uncle in Beirut last summer, he told me that he received electricity for one hour a day. Although the situation of power availability in Lebanon has improved, rising inflation and the cost of electricity has made it difficult for many to afford keeping the lights on,” Khairallah elaborated. Most of Khairallah’s family lives in Jbeil and Beirut and still deals with regular power outages. 

“It’s created a climate where many people around the ages of 18 to 30 want to leave in search of employment in the West, as they see no future in Lebanon,” Khairallah concluded. 

So where does this leave Lebanon? Will the media remain silent until another catastrophic event draws the attention of the Western Hemisphere? The reality is that the Beirut Blast was not the cause of economic and political stability in Lebanon — it was a repercussion. In the three years following the explosion, the country’s economy and social network has sharply deteriorated. Given the Western media’s scope of influence, it is now more important than ever for news sources to address the roots of the conflict and its impact on civilians, not just its effects. We cannot wait for Aug. 4, 2020, to repeat itself.

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