Lebanon’s trying to survive: how is Beirut recovering after explosion?
Mass emigration, deficit of shopping windows and fall in local currency
“The blast was terrible, but not deadly,” remembers Near Eastern journalist and Realnoe Vremya’s columnist Anhar Kochneva living in Beirut about the recent catastrophe. In a column for our online newspaper, the author tells us how the capital of Lebanon survives after the massive blast that took place two months ago. Anhar sadly states that now Beirut stopped interesting the Russian mass media, as the hype around the tragedy already disappeared. Nevertheless, life in the Arab republic goes on...
Early to bury Beirut
When there was an explosion in Beirut, this blast became the most covered topic in the Russian mass media. Journalists of most channels hyped thanks to the catastrophe and then lost any interest in events around it. Or it isn’t a top-rated topic to say how the city is licking its wounds, how it is reconstructing damaged buildings. But humanity isn’t rated at all.
The city, which Russia mass media assured to be “half damaged” (not to mention only one report in a newspaper headlined “Beirut WAS here”!), feels quite good to be “buried” in advance. The street that suffered from the blast wave the most has a lot of cafes and bars. Many of them are already operating to the full.
Glass, especially big windows are the main problem. There is a queue for them. Everybody needs it, they need a lot of glass. And Lebanon itself doesn’t produce such a good. One has to wait for it to be brought. Those who haven’t got glass yet close orphaned windows with roller shutters, sheets of plywood or simply with cellophane. It is October now, the season of rains will begin soon. And the buildings that haven’t been protected from them can soak from inside. This is the main problem absolutely for all owners of affected buildings now, both those where repairs and reconstruction works have already begun and where works aren’t done yet.
Some streets are buzzing with work. Some streets are absolutely empty (the less affected buildings where there is no risk of destruction of historic buildings built 150 years ago). According to Beirut’s city administration, over 17,000 real estate objects were hit anyway. It is mainly flats, but there are also separate mansions that are a cultural and historical heritage of Lebanon.
By the way, only one house was destroyed so much that there is no sense in reconstructing it anymore. Yes, the city, which is “half destroyed” has by far more houses with fissures or even pieces of walls were blown apart by the explosion. Such houses are already covered by scaffoldings everywhere. Everything that can be saved is saved. Everything that can be repaired is repaired.
At an influential family’s place
Two days ago I went to see Roderick Sursock, a descendant of Lebanese and Irish aristocrats, a representative of the family that just recently was one of the seven most influential families in Lebanon. The historic villa built by his grandfather was seriously damaged in the explosion. A wedding was celebrated in the garden near the villa during the blast. Nobody died, but some people were injured.
The owner of the house — Roderick’s mother Yvonne — was injured and taken to hospital. She was 98 years old. She is a legendary woman and did very much to conserve the Lebanese architectural heritage. Even though the injuries weren’t critical and doctors did their best, she anyway died. She didn’t cope with the consequences of terrible stress. Yes, due to her age. But people live longer, especially such people who were in their sound mind till the end. But the shock was inhumane.
I expressed my condolences, asked him about the current situation with the house that was on the way of the explosive wave, right in front of the port. I asked him about the fate of numerous artefacts that were kept in glass windows in this house. To my surprise, most of them survived. Even a collection of Roman glass, which is from 1,500 to 2,000 years old, wasn’t almost damaged, poor walls received the main blow. The walls have fissures, a brigade of Hindu constructors are getting rid of them now. Yes, the majority of constructors and repairers are foreigners: India and Syria. It is both cheaper and has a better quality — these people have experience.
Lebanon’s trying to survive
Generally speaking, owners of affected real estate objects have to desperately economise, of course. Almost everybody claimed that they either didn’t receive any compensation and financial aid or did little. There is such a paradox: everybody around thinks the state of affairs is much worse than it is in fact, but anyway they don’t rush to help get rid of the consequences of the trouble. It’s fine when we’re talking about a destroyed setting of a restaurant and window glasses blown apart by the explosion. And when you lost one wall, where should you get money to get it back? But Lebanon is trying to survive. And now it is waiting for foreign tourists very much: the country is in dire need of cash. It has little cash, though it has it. The country that was once very expensive for tourism suddenly became one of the cheapest in the region because of the devaluation of the national currency five times. Most restaurants can’t raise prices because the Lebanese receiving salaries in the local currency that lost its weight are the main clients.
My daughter with my ex-husband came to see me. We ate fish and seafood for dinner, the bill was $30. The bill that still indicates the dollar rate against lira, which hasn’t officially changed, reads we have $150. An upgraded room in a beach hotel will cost $70 now. And the bill will read you paid $330. These are the paradoxes of today’s Lebanese economy.
A lot of Lebanese have gone or are planning to leave the country if there is a place to stay in. By Lebanese mass media’s approximate estimates, about 400,000 people (including babies, of course) have submitted applications for emigration visas to different countries’ consulates. Those who stay will build Beirut again, raise the economy that fell almost till the ground and live on.
The blast was terrible, but not deadly.