On Tuesday, August 4, the people of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city, suffered a horrific accident. A single massive chemical explosion at the port killed at least 154 people and injured five thousand. Immediately, hospitals were overrun with patients, while some of the city’s hospitals were themselves too damaged by the explosion to take patients. It is too soon to know the full repercussions of the devastation, but entire sections of the city were leveled. The port was completely destroyed, along with large sections of the city’s downtown business district. Grain silos containing 85 percent of the country’s grain were severely damaged.
The epicenter of the explosion was a warehouse containing over three thousand tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive industrial chemical used as a fertilizer and a mining explosive. It had been stored there for over six years.
This is at least the sixth time in modern history that a large quantity of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate has caused a massive lethal explosion, and the third time in under a decade. Similar horrific accidents have occurred in the US, Europe, and China.
None of these accidents had to happen. For well over a century, we have known the dangers of storing large amounts of ammonium nitrate. Experts know perfectly well what precautions are necessary to manage this chemical without putting lives at risk. And yet here we are again.
There is mounting evidence that local officials had been aware of the risks associated with this warehouse at the port of Beirut. What we see in Beirut is yet another example of the ruling class’s contempt for human life.
Last year saw massive upheavals in Lebanon, as an entire generation rose up together in opposition to high unemployment, lack of basic services, and government corruption. These upheavals caused their Prime Minister to resign in October. But the protests only continued as so many young people have completely lost faith in elites to run the country in the interests of the general population, regardless of which politicians are in government.
The people of Lebanon have provided us with an inspirational example of unity and class struggle. Their struggle is our struggle, as we are one global working class facing the same global capitalist system that plays dice with our lives. Whether it’s in times of upheaval, or in times of severe strife like we see today, we must stand in solidarity with the people of Lebanon and condemn capitalism’s contempt for human life.