France on Wednesday pledged to send 500,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines to Lebanon, along with €100 million ($118.9 million) in emergency aid to rebuild Beirut a year after a massive explosion tore through the capital city, Anadolu Agency reported.
In a virtual joint conference led by French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterras, international leaders from 40 different governments and institutions came together with the aim of helping the recovery of Lebanon, still reeling and grief-stricken a year after the blast in the Port of Beirut left miles of devastation and over 200 people killed.
The leaders hope to raise €357 million in emergency assistance for the country, with Macron tuning in from his official state residence, Fort de Bregancon, in the Mediterranean city of Bormes-les-Mimosas.
The massive blast erupted on Aug. 4, 2020, when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored for six years in a warehouse detonated. Terrorism was quickly ruled out but the exact cause of the explosion is still unknown.
The ammonium nitrate — an odorless substance commonly used as fertilizer — had been seized from a cargo ship in 2014 and never properly disposed of. Not combustible on its own, ammonium nitrate can ignite under extreme heat.
According to Lebanon's Ministry of Health, the explosion claimed the lives of 218 people, injured 7,500, and caused €13 million in property damage. Much of the devastation remains and rebuilding has been incredibly slow, with 300,000 people having lost their homes.
The explosion was felt on the island of Cyprus, roughly 100 miles (160 kilometers) west, and even as far away as Turkey, Israel, Syria, Palestine, and parts of Europe. The blasts registered 3.3 on the Richter scale, used to measure the intensity of earthquakes.
France sent three military planes to Beirut the morning after the blasts, loaded with 55 French soldiers, a dozen doctors, 6 tons of military equipment, and 15 tons of other equipment and aid. Macron traveled to Lebanon two days after the disaster to assess the situation, meeting with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun and then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Macron spoke at the conference on Wednesday of "unspeakable dysfunctions" regarding what he calls a lack of leadership in Lebanon over the past year as the country grapples with the aftermath of the blast, as well as continued severe unemployment, inflation, and poverty.
One year on, a new government has yet to be formed, while an investigation into the blast has yet to yield any arrests of politicians amid allegations of widespread corruption.
In June, a new prime minister in Lebanon, Najib Mikati, was elected in hopes of moving the country towards better rule and further reconstruction. The previous Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, resigned less than a week after the explosion last August.