NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 13th of August, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up: recovering from a man-made disaster.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF SIREN]
EICHER: Last week a massive explosion rocked Beirut, Lebanon. It killed more than 200, injured thousands, and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF BOBCAT, WORKERS, JACKHAMMER]
BASHAM: Residents of the devastated city are working hard to clear debris and repair damage. International aid groups are also pitching in. But it’s going to be a long process.
WORLD senior editor Mindy Belz traveled to Beirut to report on the situation and she joins us now. Mindy, good morning.
MINDY BELZ, GUEST: Good morning, Megan.
BASHAM: So, tell us what you’re seeing there on the ground.
BELZ: It’s a remarkable scene, really. I mean, the level of destruction is different from anything I’ve seen before. You have a crater in the middle of Beirut’s harbor that runs now about 140 feet deep. Half the city of Beirut has been affected by this and by affected, I mean houses destroyed like you would see in an earthquake, metal rods, things twisted like you would see in a hurricane, that kind of thing.
I went by the St. George’s hospital today, I didn’t realize that it was actually a medical complex that stretches over about a block and a half and maybe even more, and every window is blown out. Mattresses are hanging out of what used to be hospital rooms. And it’s the kind of destruction that you really have to see to believe.
BASHAM: And before I interviewed, you were mentioning how significant this is because of Beirut and what it represents in the area. Can you talk about that a little bit?
BELZ: Sure. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Lebanon is, in many ways, the last bastion of freedom in the Arab world. And one of the great pieces of that, I think an ingredient of that is that it has a very vibrant Christian community. And that Christian community is based out of what many people call “Old Beirut” or “East Beirut.” And these are the neighborhoods that are directly close to the port. These are the neighborhoods that are most devastated. It is a real question now whether Lebanon’s Christian community inside Beirut can hold on because of the devastation that’s there.
BASHAM: Well, so have you started talking to the Christian community there yet? And, if so, how are they responding to the disaster?
BELZ: Yeah, I’ve spent the last few days walking the streets with them, going in some of their houses, seeing some of the damage. Really a remarkable time because the cleanup is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.
You have volunteer crews out in the streets with brooms, with buckets, with dust pans, and they are clearing the glass. They are bringing in small front loaders to move the rubble and they’re taking—there are churches and Christian ministries here that I don’t think they’ve slept since this happened a week ago. And so it’s really an incredible all volunteer clean-up effort at this point.
BASHAM: How about the international response and how has the U.S. been involved?
BELZ: U.S. officials were here this week—the head of USAID, which will I think lead the humanitarian effort, but also the head of the World Food Program was here yesterday and I spoke to him, to David Beasley. He’s the former governor of South Carolina and he was here because he knows what a severe food crisis is going to be coming for Lebanon. He told me yesterday that Lebanon has two and a half weeks of bread supply left.
I think that might be—some people would say that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. There is now some grain that’s coming in. But all of the grain reserves for Lebanon were in the port and were destroyed. And any country, I’m told, should have six months of grain reserves and Lebanon now has zero months.
The U.S. has pledged $17 million also toward assisting Beirut. And much of that may go into helping restore supply chain and these grain reserves. They were even looking at the United States potentially being a partner with France or with others in helping to rebuild the port. It is pretty much a major issue because Lebanon is a major importer. I believe 85 percent of its food is imported.
But secondarily, 30 percent of what the U.S. gets into Syria comes in through this port in Beirut. And so that’s a huge issue, too. We’re looking at a whole region that can be affected by the long term closure of this port. And so I think that’s where the U.S. will focus its efforts.
BASHAM: Well, Mindy, one more question before we let you go. I know Lebanon has had political upheaval for some time, but did the ruling party’s resignation surprise you? Of course, Lebanon has been in a crisis with six months of protests and economic decline. How much does that impact the situation now?
BELZ: It’s a huge part of the situation now and everywhere I go people are talking about the political instability and the economic instability here. So, on the one hand this is a terrible time for a country to have this kind of disaster and this level of loss of life and humanitarian crisis. On the other hand, it could turn out to be a time where the disaster itself, the explosion itself forces this region and the rest of the world to focus more on the role that Hezbollah in particular has been playing in the political atmosphere here in Lebanon.
We think of Hezbollah as a terror group, which it is, and the U.S. considers it one, officially. But here in Lebanon it is a political party with a lot of political power. There is this fear of Hezbollah, but we’ve been seeing effigies burning in Martyr Square right off of the port site every night of some of the key Hezbollah figures. I saw a newscast tonight where questions were being asked about key Hezbollah leaders here.
These are things that were never discussed. People have been too afraid to talk about it. And it’s sort of coming out of the shadows. I think that we could be in for a time of upheaval here. It’s not a time for Western powers to look the other way. But I also think it could be a tremendous time of opportunity both for Christian relief work and for rebuilding this country as a whole.
BASHAM: Mindy Belz is senior editor for WORLD. Mindy, thank you for being our eyes and ears in the Middle East today.
BELZ: Thank you, Megan.