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Beirut explosion: Residents forced to provide basic services amid lack of state support

People share their anger and frustration as they are forced to clean streets and provide shelter for the homeless
Volunteers arrive to clear up the rubble amid an absence of state services (AFP)

People in Lebanon have been venting their frustration over the lack of any government response on the ground, following a devastating blast that sent shockwaves across Beirut on Tuesday. 

The explosion has claimed the lives of more than 150 people and left at least 5,000 people wounded, with entire neighbourhoods wiped out and up to 300,000 residents displaced from their homes. 

Scores of people have been using social media to highlight the lack of state services provided to those who have had their homes devastated by the blast.

Many are sharing photos of volunteers and ordinary citizens who have sprung into action, cleaning the streets of debris and providing food and water to injured citizens as the state fails to respond three days after the explosion. 

In the aftermath of the blast, volunteers went out onto the streets in large numbers to clear glass from streets and debris from shattered buildings, while others opened up their homes to residents who were rendered homeless by the blast. 

During a visit to Beirut on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a probe into the explosion, and walked around some of the obliterated neighbourhoods, listening to people’s concerns. 

Members of the crowd chanted "the people want the fall of the regime" as he spoke, indicating the widespread anger in Lebanon at a political class whose mismanagement and corruption they blame for Tuesday's disaster. 

Macron guaranteed people that any aid provided by France would not go to into corrupt hands. He did not respond to calls for the release from French prison of anti-imperialist Lebanese militant Georges Abdallah.

In the days following the blast, the hashtag #علقوا_المشانق (hang the nooses) was trending in Lebanon, where over 16,000 people used it to call for a change in the system and for officials to be held accountable.

Anger on social media is matched by anger on the streets, with groups of people gathering in central Beirut and close to parliament, demanding accountability and expressing their frustrations.

Protesters were met with tear gas from security forces, who quickly dispersed crowds, wounding some demonstrators.

Several countries have responded to the disaster by sending aid to Beirut, and a number of foreign aid organisations have started offering humanitarian assistance on the ground. 

Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) has been helping search for survivors, digging through the debris and recovering bodies, while Qatar said the country has dispatched a military plane carrying medical aid, as had the United States. France and a number of other European countries are set to follow suit.

Meanwhile, hospitals in Beirut, many of which are at full capacity, have been inundated with patients.

People have also used social media to share information on locations where volunteers can donate blood and find offers for free rides to hospitals, as well as setting up online groups to help locate people who have gone missing.

Tuesday’s explosion comes amidst an economic crisis in Lebanon, where the lira has lost 80 percent of its value in recent months, as well as the country struggling to deal with a surge of coronavirus cases.  

Marwan Abboud, Beirut's governor, said on Wednesday that collective losses after the blast may reach anywhere from $10bn to $15bn, including both direct and indirect losses related to business.

Even before the blast, the government had previously warned that 60 percent of the population could be living below the poverty line before the end of the year.