One Year after the Devastating Beirut Port Explosion: How did the UN observe the tragic 4th of August Day?
11 August 2021
The 4th of August has become an ominous day that will dwell forever in the memory of every Lebanese. On this fateful day, 214 people lost their lives, over 6,000 were injured and thousands found themselves without any shelter, their lives and livelihoods completely shattered. The damage was colossal on many fronts, caused by the unsafe storage of an enormous quantity of ammonium nitrate at the Port of Beirut for many years.
On the occasion of the first anniversary of this tragic day, the United Nations staff in Lebanon has united in grief to mourn the victims of this horrendous tragedy, and express their solidarity with their families and the injured and with the people of Lebanon at large who are bearing the brunt of the country’s socio-economic, financial and political crises.
A minute of silence was observed at the Port of Beirut where the massive explosions erupted, in the presence of UN officials, ambassadors and the diplomatic corps in Lebanon.
“Let us take this moment of silence to honor the memory of the victims of this terrible explosion, to show our solidarity with their families and all the Lebanese people,” UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka said before the minute of silence was observed at the Port.
“A Minute of Silence will never console the pain of families of the victims of the Beirut Blast,” tweeted the UN Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Najat Rochdi on this solemn occasion.
“Today we reflect on the suffering and sorrow of those who lost their loved ones in this dreadful tragedy, of the survivors and people of Lebanon and reiterate our call for a swift and impartial investigation,” she added.
UN Staff Members recall and react
Concurrently, other UN staff members observed one minute of silence in their respective UN offices to pay tribute to the victims and show their solidarity with their bereaved families and with their UN colleagues who lost their loved ones.
“August 4 has been marked in every single Lebanese person. For me, time stopped there,” said Danielle Inaty, UNV National Specialist working with WHO office in Lebanon. “It has been a year already! Yet, I still live this tragic event over and over again.”
Inaty observed a minute in silence with her colleagues in WHO office in Beirut and added with tears running down her cheeks: “scars may have healed, but we will forever remember this sad day. May the soul of the victims rest in eternal peace”.
UN staff were equally hit by this fatal explosion. They lost family members, relatives, friends and saw their houses falling into debris.
Rana Dash, a Lebanese programme assistant working for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Lebanon, still remembers vividly what happened on that day. The minute she felt the shockwaves of the explosion from her house in Ashrafieh, Rana knew that people would need her help, so she sprang into immediate action.
“I heard a huge explosion, followed by a tide of screaming and shattering glass. I grabbed my first aid kit and drove my damaged car to Gemmayzeh to help. My tires crunched on broken glass. It was the first time that I see so much blood in my entire life... People turned to prayers amid the tragedy, and my only concern back then was to stop people’s bleeding and save their lives.”
Elie Mansour, senior engineer and head of UN-Habitat Lebanon’s Urban Planning and Design Unit, was another UN staff survivor from the Beirut blast. He was still in the office working late when the blast went off. “The building shook. I started praying. The alarm sounded, the windows blew out of the walls, and the office’s interior partitions titled. The office was in complete ruins,” Elie said recounting his most horrifying moments that day.
“Looking back, I know that my story does not compare with those of people who had their lives taken or changed forever on 4 August 2020, but for me it was a lesson that even through the hardest moments, hope should always prevail,” Elie added with a determination to stay hopeful despite all the hardships facing Lebanon.
A joint EU-UN-WB position on the commemoration of the Beirut Blast
The commemoration of the fatal explosions was also observed by the three principals of the European Union, the World Bank and the UN who are partners in the so-called “Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (3RF)” that aims for a rapid transition towards Lebanon’s recovery with focus on governance, social protection, social cohesion, inclusion and gender, health, education, and housing.
“365 days later, the people of Lebanon are still waiting for the justice promised by the country’s decision makers… 365 days later, the investigation continues to stall, without a truly independent judiciary able to block political intervention… 365 days later, we reiterate our call for an effective, independent and transparent investigation that can bring justice for the victims and peace for their families,” wrote Rochdi along with Ambassador of the European Union to Lebanon, Ralph Tarraf, and the Regional Director of the Middle East Department of the World Bank, Saroj Kumar Jha in an Op-Ed published in local media on the same day.
A year after the blast, grieving families continue to seek justice and truth for their loved ones, and the UN reiterates its call for a swift, independent and impartial investigation that guarantees justice to victims and ensures families’ right to remedy and reparation.
A Conference in Support of the People of Lebanon
Reaffirming its support for Lebanon one year after the devastating explosion, the UN co-chaired with France an international donor conference to boost aid and prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Lebanon. The conference responded to a UN humanitarian appeal for $370 million in emergency aid for the coming 12 months. This new appeal aims to save lives and to address the most urgent food security, water, sanitation, health and education needs of impoverished Lebanese and migrants.
However, “humanitarian assistance cannot be a long-term solution”, read the co-chairs’ statement issued after the conference, calling first and foremost for a Government formation that implements reforms promised since the 2018 CEDRE Conference, the resumption of negotiations with IMF and the timely preparations of transparent and impartial 2022 elections.
Participants in the conference reiterated their commitment to stand alongside the Lebanese people and expressed their determination “to make use of all available instruments to provide direct support to population.” But structural economic and financial assistance require profound changes by Lebanon leaders, concluded the statement.
Produced by UN in Lebanon. Written by Nadine Abi Zeid Daou, the National Information Officer for the Resident Coordinator Office in Lebanon. For more information on how the UN is supporting in Lebanon visit, https://lebanon.un.org/.
UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Labour Organization
International Organization for Migration
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations Human Settlements Programme
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Department of Safety and Security
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Information Centre
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Industrial Development Organization
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East