The shock is still fresh and it is profound. Well over 150 individuals lost their lives in the devastating explosion in Beirut on 4 August 2020. At present, there are estimated to be over 6,000 people injured.

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel offered her “deepest sympathy” to the Prime Minister of the Lebanese Republic, Hassan Diab, in a telegram of condolence: “Please convey my sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and give the survivors my very best wishes for a full and speedy recovery”, said Merkel.

A member of the German Embassy also lost her life. On behalf of the German Government, Foreign Minister Maas expressed his deepest sympathy to her relatives: “Our worst fears have been confirmed. We are deeply saddened by the death of our colleague.”

Swift help is on the way

During a telephone conversation with his Lebanese counterpart, Maas pledged to initiate emergency measures. It is clear to Heiko Maas that “in this hour of need, we are there to help. The people in Beirut need to know that we will not abandon them.”

In a first step, Germany will provide Lebanon with 1.5 million euro in emergency assistance for first-aid posts in Beirut and medical supplies to treat the injured. A German Red Cross flight has already landed in Beirut with protective equipment, medicine and bandage material.

Some 50 members of the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) have already arrived in the Lebanese capital and are searching for further survivors. Doctors and experts in hazardous goods from ISAR Germany (International Search and Rescue) are also on the ground.

The Bundeswehr, Germany's military, flew a medical reconnaissance team to Beirut. The Airbus A310 MedEvac is on stand-by. The corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein, which is normally part of the UNIFIL mission, is heading for Beirut to provide assistance.

The European Commission has pledged to provide Lebanon with emergency aid amounting to more than 33 million euro, which will be made available by member states. Among other things, it is intended to be used to ensure that medical equipment is supplied. Furthermore, the EU has activated its Civil Protection Mechanism and organised numerous rescue teams.

In a joint letter to members of the European Council on 6 August, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel offered their thoughts and sympathies to the victims, the survivors and their families, who also include European nationals.

The two EU leaders also expressed their gratitude for member states' immediate responses, while at the same time urging member states to intensify their support to Lebanon. “With the dramatic humanitarian and reconstruction needs that have now arisen, our solidarity - and that of the whole international community - will be needed more than ever before. We have a common interest in acting now to limit the fall-out of this tragedy”, they wrote.

Conveying EU solidarity

On Saturday, 8 August, Council President Michel travelled to Beirut to convey the EU's solidarity with Lebanon. “I'm touched by the bravery of the Lebanese people who have been hit by this tragedy in an already difficult context”, Michel said, paying his respects to rescue teams. He also called for an independent enquiry to shed light on the causes of the catastrophe and offered European expertise.

Charles Michel pays his respect to the rescue teams at the Port of Beirut © European Union

During his visit, where he met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri and President of the Council of Ministers Hassan Diab, Michel also underlined the importance of structural reforms - in line with the government's reform plan, Lebanon's international commitments, and as called for by the Lebanese people. “The Lebanese can count on the European Union in this effort”, Michel said.

Successful international donor conference

On 9 August, representatives from more than 30 countries met at a donor conference to agree on rapid aid to Lebanon. Over 250 million euros have been collected: the German government pledged a further 20 million euros for additional emergency aid measures; the European Commission pledged an additional 30 million euros.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued the following statement prior to the donor conference for Lebanon:

The people of Beirut need our help and they need reason to hope. More than 150 people have died and over 6000 have been injured while 300,000 have lost their homes. Such numbers are staggering. Today’s conference of Lebanon’s principal partners and supporters sends an important signal – first and foremost for those who have been directly affected by the disaster. We have already seen great solidarity and international support in the past few days. I am very pleased to be able to pledge a further 10 million euro for emergency aid measures on behalf of the Federal Government today.

However, even after the worst of the rubble has been removed, a great deal remains to be done. Lebanon faced overwhelming challenges even before the disaster. Without urgently needed reforms, there can be neither long‑term change nor stability. This is precisely what the Lebanese people are rightly calling for. Individual interests and old lines of conflict must be overcome and the well‑being of the entire population must come first.

Even if destruction and grief currently dominate the picture, the disaster can be an opportunity for a new beginning – not tomorrow, but already today. Only if the government faces up to its responsibility and acts transparently, and if the causes of the explosion are investigated, can the population regain trust. As friends and partners, we must help to lay the foundations for a strong state that offers its citizens democratic rights, freedoms and opportunities for participation – and for a social order that takes into account the wishes and demands of the people.