The containers were blown up by the explosion, and plumes of smoke rise from the port that was Lebanon's pride. Only mobile cranes, orphans, remained standing. The results of the explosion which took place yesterday in the port of Beirut itself, where some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded, is catastrophic on the human level. According to a provisional report, it would have left more than 100 dead and 4,000 injured. It is also an economic disaster, which brings to the ground a Lebanon already ravaged by the coronavirus crisis and the American sanctions, by affecting a nerve center of the country.
Live: LIVE - Explosions in Beirut: day of national mourning in Lebanon
The port of Beirut is one of the busiest in the eastern Mediterranean and, together with Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut, is one of the two main gateways to Lebanon. Rebuilt and renovated in the early 90s, with the end of the Lebanese civil war, it is made up of 4 basins and 16 docks, over a total area of 120 hectares.
This port, whose activity has only increased over the years - it has even been saturated since 2009 - was the pride of Lebanon. Symbol of modernization, located on the Marseille-Singapore axis, it was a unique gateway to the world.
The Port of Beirut was also seen as a successful public-private partnership. Container terminal operations were subcontracted to a private consortium, the Beirut Container Terminal Consortium (BCTC), but this concession was to be re-tendered. The process involved the BCTC, the logistics company CMA CGM and MSC, the Emirati Gulftainer, and the Hong Kong-based China Merchants Port. The process had already been put on hold due to the state of emergency established by the government to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The future of this concession is now on hold
Food security compromised
" The Mediterranean Sea is our opening to the West," explains Hadi Nasrallah, independent analyst of the Lebanese-Syrian zone present in Beirut. In the North and the East, there is Syria. In the south, it is Israel, with whom the border is closed ”. The destruction of the port, which manages 60% of imports, is a cataclysm. Indeed, the Lebanese economy relies heavily on imports, which approached the amount of $ 20 billion in 2018. The same year, Lebanon only exported $ 3 billion in goods.
The country's food security could be at stake, according to Hadi Nasrallah. “ The country's largest port has suddenly evaporated, and no other will be able to absorb all the imports we used to receive. However, we produce almost nothing of what we eat or drink: around 80% of food is imported ”.
Read also: Explosions in Beirut: images of the tragedy
Wheat constitutes 80% of agricultural imports from Lebanon and it passes mainly through this now ravaged port. In addition to imports now compromised, the port's gigantic grain elevators, capable of holding 120,000 tonnes of grain, were blown up by the explosion. The silos were not full at this time of year, but they are crucial since they allow Lebanon to build up a strategic grain reserve. " Lebanon will have no choice but to turn to the East, and it is no longer in a position to refuse anything from that side ," concludes Hadi Nasrallah.