Tuesday, December 14, 2010

If a major storm bringing hail, winds topping 100 kilometers per hour and snow to the mountains were to occur in September, that would constitute a surprise. For such a storm to arrive in December, however, cannot come as a surprise to anyone in Lebanon. What has been seen, though, is an absolute absence of preparedness and appropriate response from high-level state institutions.

To be sure, Civil Defense staff – as well as the Internal Security Forces, the Civil Aviation Authority, Electricite du Liban and the employees of private enterprises – have made every effort to rectify problems caused by the storm; Civil Defense, it must be said, is perpetually underfinanced and does not possess the equipment capable of ameliorating the tempest’s disastrous effects.

In Lebanon, a natural emergency such as the weekend deluge necessitates the convening of the Cabinet to manage the response; on the contrary, the government has been held hostage to political differences for more than a month, unable even to sit together – much less to act – to address even such an apolitical event begging for centralized direction as a winter storm.

The scale of the damage could be qualified as colossal for wind and rain. The requirements for assistance to this nation’s inhabitants are indeed massive; people’s lives are at stake. The livelihoods of large groups of citizens are imperiled. Farmers and fishermen need help to confront the wreckage of the storm. Beirut’s port suffered significant damage; the airport briefly closed. Electricity poles and transmission antennas were felled by the gales. In Sidon, part of the city’s notorious mountain of garbage washed out to sea and is now returning, fouling the shores of the municipality.

Citizens can find various litanies of other wreckage in the news media and hear reports of the losses afflicting various Lebanese. What they won’t hear are any attributions of responsibility or accountability, a matching exemplar to the Cabinet’s inaction of the lack of the rule of law. Just as it is clear that the government will not meet to react to a natural disaster, certainty exists that no one will be called to account for the damage caused by failures of negligence and incompetence.

Contractors with public tenders have failed to meet standards of adequate storm protection. In every aspect of their work, contractors can cut corners change plans – in other words, cheat – because the executive and judicial branches of this state are incapable of exacting any accountability for dereliction of duty and breach of contract. The state will not press in the courts for damages; the state will not include fines in public contracts for work revealed to be deficient; the state will not even establish a blacklist of contractors who have cheated and cannot be trusted again with public monies.

Meteorologists predict that another, similar storm will arrive next week. The storm – and its aftermath – should not surprise anyone.