Lebanon, where a fuel tank explosion killed at least 20 people Sunday, is mired in what the World Bank calls one of the world’s worst economic crises since the 1850s.
Severe fuel shortages have crippled businesses and hospitals and caused power cuts that have plunged the country into darkness.
The crisis has been exacerbated by politicians repeatedly wrangling over forming a government since the last one resigned in the wake of an enormous explosion at Beirut port in August 2020.
Here is a recap:
– Dollar shortages –
Anxiety over dollar shortages spikes on September 29, 2019 when hundreds of people take to the streets of central Beirut in protest against economic hardship.
Among the worst hit are petrol station owners who need dollars to pay their suppliers. But media reports say banks and exchange offices are limiting dollar sales for fear of running out.
– Last straw –
Mass protests follow a government announcement on October 17 of a planned tax on voice calls made over messaging services such as WhatsApp.
With the economy already in crisis, many see the tax as the last straw, with some demanding “the fall of the regime”.
The government of Saad Hariri scraps the tax the same day, but protests continue for weeks with demonstrators calling for the replacement of a ruling class accused of corruption.
Hariri’s government resigns in late October.
– Eurobond default –
Lebanon, with a debt burden equivalent to nearly 170 percent of its gross domestic product, announces in March 2020 that it will default on a $1.2-billion Eurobond.
In April, following three nights of violent clashes, then-prime minister Hassan Diab says Lebanon will seek the International Monetary Fund’s help after the government approves an economic rescue plan.
But negotiations with the IMF quickly go off the rails.
– Monster blast –
A massive explosion on August 4, 2020 at Beirut port kills more than 200 people, injures at least 6,500, devastates swathes of the capital and leaves hundreds of thousands homeless.
The government says the blast appears to have been caused by a fire that ignited tonnes of ammonium nitrate left unsecured in a warehouse for six years.
Popular anger re-erupts, after being on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Top officials are investigated over the explosion, but no politicians are arrested.
– Political impasse –
Diab announces the resignation of his government in August after just over seven months in office.
Diplomat Mustafa Adib is named new premier but bows out after less than a month, and Hariri, already prime minister three times, is named as premier-designate in October.
– One of worst crises –
Authorities announce in February 2021 that bread prices will rise by around 20 percent.
In June, the World Bank says Lebanon’s economic collapse is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century.
The Lebanese pound plunges to a new record low on the black market, and protesters try to storm central bank offices in the northern city of Tripoli and Sidon in the south.
In early July two major power stations temporarily grind to a halt due to a lack of fuel, after the government hikes fuel prices by more than 30 percent in late June.
Medicine importers announce in July that they have run out of key drugs.
– Hariri out, Miqati in –
After nine months of horse-trading, premier-designate Hariri steps aside on July 15, saying he is unable to form a government.
Billionaire politician and twice former premier Najib Mikati is handed the task on July 26.
– Fuel subsidies lifted –
On August 11 the head of the central bank Riad Salameh says he is halting fuel subsidies to ease pressure on fast-depleting foreign currency reserves, sparking panic among citizens.
Three days later the army deploys at gas stations and seizes thousands of liters of gasoline and diesel that distributors were hoarding.
Early Sunday, at least 20 people are killed and nearly 80 injured when a fuel tank explodes in the north of the country.