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International Relations

Beirut Explosion

  • 06 Aug 2020
  • 9 min read

Why in News

Recently, a massive explosion took place in Beirut, capital of Lebanon, which left more than hundred people dead and more than 4,000 injured, according to the reports until now.

Key Points

  • There were two explosions in the central port area of Beirut which occurred barely within minutes of each other within nearby buildings.
  • The blast affected residents living as far as 10 kilometres away from the site and was felt upto 250 Km.
  • The blast created seismic waves equivalent to a magnitude 3.3 earthquake.
  • The blasts were likely triggered by over 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been confiscated and stored by authorities near the port for over six years.
  • A two-week state emergency has been imposed in Beirut following the blast.

Impact of the Blast

  • Economic: Lebanon is an import-dependent country. The badly damaged port facility is Lebanon’s largest maritime gateway and it will make essential items expensive and threaten food security in the country.
    • Lebanon has already been struggling with a huge economic meltdown, with the rapid devaluation of the local currency and a volatile exchange rate on the black market fueling inflation, shuttering businesses, unemployment and poverty.
    • It had also defaulted on a Eurobond repayment in March 2020.
    • It is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a $10 billion loan program.
    • The blast will pose an additional financial burden of rebuilding the city.
  • Political: Lebanon faced nationwide protests against corruption, economic mismanagement and sectarian politics in October 2019, which forced the resignation of then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
    • This blast along with the growing economic crisis can again cause social unrest.
  • Health: The country’s health system is already burdened with the patients of Covid-19 pandemic and the victims of blast will add to this.

International Response

  • Lebanon has been offered help by various countries like the USA, Germany, France , Iran, EU, Turkey etc.
  • Along with giving aid, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron has decided to visit Lebanon.
    • This move is seen as a message of fraternity and solidarity from France.
    • Earlier, France’s top diplomat had scolded Lebanon’s political elite for being too “passive” in the face of an economic crisis and the pandemic.
  • Lebanon has also been offered humanitarian aid by its neighbour Israel, whom it has bitter relations with.
    • Israel sees Hezbollah, the militant group of Lebanon as a threat to its northern borders.’
    • Hezbollah is one of the Middle East's most powerful and successful guerrilla organizations. It is the strongest member of Lebanon's pro-Syrian opposition bloc who pitted against the pro-Western government led by Saad Hariri.

Ammonium Nitrate

  • Ammonium Nitrate (NH4NO3) is a nitrogen-rich white, crystalline chemical which is soluble in water.
  • Uses:
    • It is a common chemical ingredient of agricultural fertilisers.
    • It is used as an ingredient for the production of anaesthetic gases and cold packs.
    • It is also the main ingredient in the manufacture of commercial explosives used in mining and construction.
  • As Explosive:
    • It is the main component of the explosive composition known as ANFO- ammonium nitrate fuel oil.
    • Pure ammonium nitrate is not an explosive on its own. For Ammonium nitrate to be explosive a primary explosive or detonator like RDX or TNT is required.
    • Many Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) used by terrorists around the world have ANFO as the main explosive.
    • Stored ammonium nitrate is a fire hazard and can explode in two ways.
      1. It may come in contact with some explosive mixture.
      2. Due to the oxidation process at large scale, heat may be generated starting a fire and then explosion. This seems to be the primary likely cause of the incident at Beirut port.
  • Explosions in Past:
    • In the majority of terror attacks in India, including those in Pulwama, Varanasi, Malegaon, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai, ammonium nitrate has been used along with initiator explosives like RDX.
    • There have been accidental explosions of ammonium nitrate causing large numbers of fatalities. Eg. China in 2015 and in Texas in 1947.
  • Regulations:
    • Global: It is classified as an oxidising content (Grade 5.1) under the United Nations classification of dangerous goods.
      • The United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods categorizes the types of dangerous goods, under nine classes like Explosive Materials, Inflammable liquids, Easily oxidising contents etc.
    • India: In India, the manufacture, conversion, bagging, import, export, transport, possession for sale or use of ammonium nitrate is covered under The Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012.
      • The Explosives Act, 1884, define ammonium nitrate as the “compound with formula NH4NO3 including any mixture or compound having more than 45% ammonium nitrate by weight including emulsions, suspensions, melts or gels but excluding emulsion or slurry explosives and non explosives emulsion matrix and fertilizers from which the ammonium nitrate cannot be separated”.
      • Storage of ammonium nitrate in large quantities in populated areas is illegal in India.
      • For the manufacture of ammonium nitrate, an Industrial licence is required under the Industrial Development and Regulation Act, 1951.
      • A license under the Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012 is also required for any activity related to ammonium nitrate.

Lebanon

  • It is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, while Cyprus lies west across the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Lebanon was conquered by the Ottomans in the 16th century and remained under their rule for the next 400 years.
  • Following the empire's collapse after World War I, it came under the control of French, from which it gained independence in 1943.
  • Lebanon witnessed Civil war from 1975-1990 that was a result of conflict between various factions like the Christians, the left-wing Druze and the Muslims and was interspersed with Israeli invasions targeting the palestinian militants in Lebanon.
  • The present government in Lebanon is confessionalist parliamentary democracy.
    • Confessionalism is a system of government which apportions seats in its legislature to different groups of people strictly based on demographic composition.

Way Forward

  • This tragedy piles yet another layer of hardship on a country already reeling from its worst financial crisis in decades along with an exasperating political turbulence and struggling to contain a burgeoning coronavirus outbreak.
  • Lebanon cannot do without containing politically extremist groups functioning in the country and maintaining healthy relationships with the international community.
  • It is time that international solidarity comes into action and extends a helping hand towards the country.

Source: IE

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