Jordan can handle the Aqaba explosion

While traumatic, the scene was declared under control quickly

A Jordanian forensics expert inspects the site of the toxic gas explosion in the Red Sea port of Aqaba. AFP
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After a deeply worrying few hours for his country, Jordan's prime minister, Bisher Al Khasawneh, announced on Tuesday that the southerncity of Aqaba had become "totally safe", after a chlorine gas explosion at its port killed 13 people and injured 250.

This is a significant announcement, and will bring some relief to Jordanians although there are hundreds injured or devastated by the blast. Video footage of the moment the accident took place led to intense concern. It shows a large tank of chlorine gas falling from a crane on to the deck of a vessel in the city's port. The subsequent explosion releases a large amount of yellow smoke. Fearing the effects of toxic gas, authorities closed beaches and told people to keep windows shut.

Getting the port back up and running is key, as it will reassure those living and working nearby. Aqaba is crucial for Jordan. It is the country's only port, and plays a key role in the infrastructure of the country, particularly in today's times when a food crisis is hitting the Middle East particularly badly. Symbolically, it is a key part of the wider Red Sea region, a tourism and ecological treasure for countries in the region.

By swiftly getting emergency services to the area and declaring the situation safe mere hours after the explosion, it appears Jordan has succeeded in this mission.

Such success requires vigilance, readiness and effective training. It is never guaranteed, a fact with which the Middle East is familiar. Footage of the dramatic plume of smoke and workers fleeing the scene has been beamed the world over. Many of those watching, particularly in the region, will have immediately thought back to August 2020 when an explosion at Beirut's port led to one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, killing more than 200 people and injuring 6,000.

As Lebanon came to terms with the scale of the loss, attention quickly turned to asking how such a disaster could have happened. It is little surprise that corruption, mismanagement and a lack of accountability were quickly cited. The country has suffered from these in all quarters for decades.

Almost two years on, however raw feelings might still be, it is clear that the explosion at Aqaba is far from the same level of devastation, both in terms of the number of casualties and the way authorities have responded.

After all, in Lebanon, some politicians who may have the answers the public needs continue to obstruct the course of investigations. Ghazi Zeaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil, two MPs charged in connection with the disaster, have even been re-elected to parliament. Victims not only still have few answers, but also have to contend with harsh realities such as these.

In some ways, then, it appears Jordan is already further ahead than Lebanon when it comes to taking the initiative to respond. Many images already show protective gear-clad emergency workers surveying the damage, and despite concerning warnings to stay indoors, it is hugely welcome that the Prime Minister has declared the situation safe and that air quality is at normal levels.

Beyond Jordan and the Middle East, the quick response of authorities, however early investigations might be, is a reminder of the fragility of our infrastructure and the danger with which many of its workers contend. In shipping, an industry that carries about 80 per cent of global trade by volume, tragically, accidents are bound to happen. What is important is how authorities the world over respond to them, and, further down the line, what they learn from them to make everyone safer.

Published: June 29, 2022, 3:00 AM
EDITORIAL