Photo: Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Beirut residents are still clearing rubble from streets that appear war-torn, days after a blast that shocked the country and horrified the world.

Why it matters: The explosion is likely to accelerate a painful cycle Lebanon was already living through — discontent, economic distress, and emigration.

The big picture: Lebanon was already undergoing a massive financial crisis, deepening coronavirus outbreak, and political instability following months of protests. It was also recovering from devastating wildfires last year.

  • The economic crisis had left 75% of Lebanese in need of aid, 33% unemployed, and 15% — one million people — below the poverty line, BBC reports.
  • Lebanon already had among the lowest life satisfaction levels in the world, wedged between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, according to Gallup.
  • Add to that an explosion which killed over 150 people, injured more than 5,000 and left as many as 300,000 homeless in a matter of minutes.

Where things stand: While countries such as France have offered to help, it's unlikely the international community can truly come to Lebanon's rescue — financially or otherwise — during a pandemic that is sapping most attention and resources.

  • Lebanon's middle class has been outraged by the government negligence that allowed 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate to be unsafely stored in the city's port for six years, and by a "slow and ineffective rescue effort," The Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Blame-shifting and an unwillingness to allow international experts to lead an investigation into the explosion are doing little to restore confidence.

Between the lines: There is general agreement in Lebanon that the political ruling class is corrupt, the Middle East Institute's Hassan Mneimneh tells Axios.

  • As the dust settles in Beirut, there will likely be more protests calling for "the fall of the regime."
  • Yes, but: "As dramatic as this event is, it does not seem to be a break from the cycle of trauma," Mneimeh says.

What to watch: Educated younger Lebanese, already struggling with high unemployment, are likely to head West in search of employment, Mneimeh says.

  • Many have the skills and means to find work outside of Lebanon. That could drive a brain drain just as Beirut and Lebanon are attempting to rebuild.
  • Financially, foreign governments have said they will provide Lebanon with short-term aid, but many will be cautious in dealing with a government that is notoriously corrupt and associated with Hezbollah, per the Journal.
  • The International Monetary Fund and the Trump administration have already said they'll oppose a $5 billion bailout Lebanon is seeking absent major economic overhauls.

The bottom line: The chances of "organizing something constructive" in the aftermath of the explosion appear low, according to Mneimneh.

  • "The prospects for Lebanon are still very grim," he says.

Go deeper

Aug 12, 2020 - World

Lebanon reports coronavirus record: UN warns Beirut blast may drive cases higher

Protesters commemorate on Tuesday the victims of Beirut's Aug. 4 port explosion, which killed at least 158 people and injured some 6,000 others. Photo: Marwan Naamani/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

Lebanon reported on Tuesday seven deaths from COVID-19 and a record 309 new cases, taking the total number of infections to over 7,100.

Why it matters: World Organization official Tarik Jarasevic told a UN briefing in Geneva Tuesday that the displacement of some 300,000 people from the deadly explosion in Beirut's port could lead to a surge in cases. A UN report warns the emergency "has caused many COVID-19 precautionary measures to be relaxed, raising the prospects of even higher transmission rates and a large caseload in coming weeks," Reuters notes.

Updated Sep 28, 2020 - Health

World coronavirus updates

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

India became on Monday the second country after the U.S. to surpass 6 million cases.

By the numbers: Globally, nearly 997,800 people have died from COVID-19 and over 33 million have tested positive, Johns Hopkins data shows.

Trump's 2 chilling debate warnings

Photo: Morry Gash/Pool via Getty Images

One of the few groups in America with anything to celebrate after last night's loud, ugly, rowdy presidential "debate" was the violent, far-right Proud Boys, after President Trump pointedly refused to condemn white supremacist groups.

Why it matters: This was a for-the-history-books moment in a debate that was mostly headache-inducing noise. Trump failed to condemn racist groups after four months when millions marched for racial justice in the country's largest wave of activism in half a century.