Destroyed buildings are visible a day after a massive explosion occurred at the port on Aug. 5, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon. As of Wednesday morning, more than 100 people were confirmed dead, with thousands injured, when an explosion rocked the Lebanese capital. Officials said a waterfront warehouse storing explosive materials, reportedly 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, was the cause of the blast. (Photo by Daniel Carde/Getty Images)

Beirut explosion: the devastating situation in Lebanon requires action beyond our Twitter feeds

Years of tragedy in Syria, Palestine and Algeria prove that those well intentioned “thoughts and prayers” will only go so far. It’s time to do more. 

On Tuesday 4 August, a massive explosion ripped through the port of Lebanon’s capital city, Beirut, killing at least 100 people and injuring 4,000. Many more are feared to still be trapped under rubble.

“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, Georges Kettaneh, told a local broadcaster. “There are victims and casualties everywhere.”

The full scale of the tragedy can be felt all too keenly via our social media timelines, which have been filled with photos and videos of the mushroom cloud blooming over the city. Of the damage done to people’s homes, schools, and offices. Of the hospitals that have quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties. Of the rescue teams painstakingly searching through debris for the missing.

Overwhelming almost all of this, though, is the steady stream of “thoughts and prayers” that have been shared in tweets, Instagram posts, and Facebook statuses. 

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There’s no denying that these messages come from a place of empathy and kindness. However, it’s hardly surprising that many have dismissed them as empty platitudes.

“Enough with the prayers,” one person has tweeted. “We did it for Syria, for Palestine, for Algeria. Nothing changed. Let’s act.”

Another, urging people to do something more, shared: “Keep Lebanon in your prayers. Keep Kashmir in your prayers. Keep Yemen in your prayers. Keep the people of Rohingya in your prayers. Keep the people of Uighurs in your prayers. Keep Syria in your prayers. Keep Palestine in your prayers. And, at the same time, educate yourself and speak up.”

Beirut explosion: a debris-covered street, damaged by the explosion
Beirut explosion: Lebanese citizens walk though a debris-covered street, damaged by the explosion on 4 August 2020.

As these posts make abundantly clear, it is far too easy to tweet our sympathies from afar, to grieve for a moment, and move on with our lives. We’ve done it before, too many times over. It is absolutely fair that many suspect we will do so again.

And yet… 

Well, what if this year, strange and unsettling as it’s been, has changed us? 

To quote a now-viral poem by writer Leslie Dwight, 2020 has been a year “so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw” that it has finally forced us to grow.

It has been “a year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber. A year [in which] we finally accept the need for change. Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.”

Paralysed by an economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon was already struggling to contend with daily power outages, political unrest, a shortage of medical supplies, and increasing food prices. Tens of thousands of people are experiencing poverty, and thousands are unemployed.

The explosion in Beirut has since destroyed wheat in the port’s granaries, prompting fears of a looming food crisis. And many have expressed concerns that the port will need to shut down, cutting off the nation’s supply of medical equipment.

With this knowledge in mind, there is undoubtedly more we could be doing to help. 

Strike that: there is more we should be doing to help. 

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Perhaps the easiest way to do so, of course, is by donating money – just as so many of us did for Notre Dame. Instead of providing bricks and mortar for a burnt-out cathedral, though, these donations will go towards aiding victims, as well as help them to find shelter.

Indeed, activist Christine Delilah has compiled a list of resources and links that can be used to ensure your money helps the people of Lebanon directly.

But, whether you can afford to donate or not, though, please don’t let the Beirut disaster become yet another forgotten tragedy. Talk about it. Confront it. Interrogate the headlines. Educate yourself. Amplify the voices of Lebanese people. Share news stories about Lebanon on your social media platforms. 

And, above all else, remember that this disaster will shape the lives of Lebanese citizens for days, weeks, months, even years to come. 

Because they will need our continued support, long after the tragedy stops trending on Twitter. 

You can donate directly to the Lebanese Red Cross here. Please be aware that donors are being encouraged not to donate in the local currency because of the economic situation in the country weakening its value.

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