Since the 1980s Lebanon has been fragile, from intelligence breach, corruption and to the negligence of administration, particularly the domain for health safety and environmental security. The October 23, 1983, bombing of the Marine compound at Beirut which left 241 dead, did not appeal on the state to develop new security protocols. The attack was linked to intelligence failure, but what type of improved control measures have been take till date to prevent it from happening again? Though in the past years, maritime security focuses on preventing high-profile events such as piracy, terrorism or cyber-attacks, negligence is a major aspect which concern transit of good by sea.
On 4 August, the world through media coverage view one of the most dangerous events after the 9/11 in U.S, a warehouse at the Beirut Port exploded, recording widespread casualties and material damage. The incident sparked the immediate intervention of national and international search and rescue teams and disaster management experts requested to support ongoing emergency efforts. From initial reports more than 135 people were killed and an additional 5,000 people were injured. Infrastructures were damaged around port; commercial and residential neighborhoods and people went missing. Health wise, medical personnel were overwhelmed with casualties, with many intensive care units (ICUs) already near capacity due to COVID-19. The Lebanese government estimates that the explosions left more than 300,000 people homeless in the Greater Beirut area, but part of preventing disasters of such magnet of Beirut will mean strengthening port management and addressing crimes such as smuggling and corruption.
Health, Safety and Environmental Security
The Beirut explosion, on August 4, at around 6pm local time, fueled by 2,750 tons of the highly reactive chemical ammonium nitrate left in a vessel, since 2013 due to a lack of seaworthiness and was prohibited from sailing. The abandoned of the vessel which was loaded with ammonium nitrate though in a storage facility in Beirut’s port, necessitated daily control by health safety and environmental security service, for any danger that could emanate. Another serious example is that of plastics, which can cause hazards if not properly disposed. Using Sri Lankan as an example, following discovery by her administration in 2019 of more than 100 abandoned containers in the port of Colombo, containing clinical waste, and leaking fluids, which might had contaminated the ground and surface water in the two years they had lay in port unnoticed by public health experts. Many countries like Sri Lanka after investigation discover such problem, but it is likely that many cases of abandonment go uncovered. Every port must have a health safety and environmental security department which collaborate with law enforcement department and other specialist in the health sector vest with different types of chemical to carry out daily check on any substance or material dangerous for human health and environment.
The explosion led the Lebanon administration to declare a state of emergency. The impact of the blast caused more damage to Beirut than 15 years of civil war. It damaged hospitals-leading to treatment of injured in car parks, and thousands have been left homeless. Several questions keep moderating the debates at the international scene and amongst Lebanese and security experts, as to how could authorities allow 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate to be kept in a port warehouse for six years, in the heart of a densely populated city? However, ammonium nitrate which appeal to those engage in science of agriculture. Some may appeal for the ban on the importation of ammonium nitrate, but nitrate make land to be fertile. Since 2017, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) recorded 97 cases of abandoned ships, abandoned by their owners, because it’s no longer lucrative, or perhaps high tax imposed by authorities. The government should introduce security protocols to limit such events in future.
Containers are often abandoned within ports, modus operandi for criminal activities such as waste smuggling and corruption. Though the exist several challenges to counter this criminal deeds, some security protocols can be put forth to limit the danger of any future blast or cyber-attack. The last question is; should ammonium nitrate be banned? Though the events in Beirut early warning signals were clear years back, health safety is now than no ever primordial for the Lebanese government.
(The Author is the Editor of crimeandmoreworld.com)
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