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US News Port of Beirut: the catastrophe which adds to the economic collapse

21:40  05 august  2020
21:40  05 august  2020 Source:   rfi.fr

Explosions in Beirut: who is this man who burst into tears live?

 Explosions in Beirut: who is this man who burst into tears live? © Zuma Press / Bestimage Explosions in Beirut: who is this man who burst into tears live? On Tuesday, the capital of Lebanon was hit by a double explosion, killing many and injuring thousands. Marwan Abboud could not hide his grief from journalists. "It's a national disaster", such were the first words of the governor of Beirut . This Tuesday, strong explosions shook the capital of Lebanon . The port district, the nerve center of the country, has was destroyed by the blast.

Image satellite du port de Beyrouth après lad ouble explosion survenue le 4 oût. © Maxar Technologies / via REUTERS Satellite image of the port of Beirut after the double explosion on August 4th.

Located in the heart of Beirut, the port is one of the main economic lungs of Lebanon. The importance of its infrastructure is all the more critical as the country imports the vast majority of its food needs. For the Lebanese, the explosion in the port of the capital is one catastrophe too many in a context of economic and social crisis.

Grain silos gutted: this is one of the consequences of the huge explosions in the port of Beirut. This could seem almost anecdotal compared to the heavy toll of at least 135 dead, some 4,000 injured and 300,000 people who have lost their homes. But the loss of these reserves worries the United Nations Agency for Agriculture and Food. Indeed, the FAO "fears to have in the short term a problem of availability of flour for the country", a concern that does not share the Lebanese Minister of the Economy who assured that the country was not threatened by a shortage of flour.

Lebanon: the government declares a state of emergency for two weeks

 Lebanon: the government declares a state of emergency for two weeks © REUTERS / Issam Abdallah August 6, 2020: the port of Beirut devastated by the explosion of August 4. In Lebanon, the toll of the double explosion that devastated the capital Beirut on Tuesday August 4 has grown even worse, now amounting to 135 dead and more than 5,000 injured. The Lebanese government has declared a state of emergency for two weeks in the capital, where French President Emmanuel Macron is due to land on Thursday (August 6th) to express France's support and solidarity.

Almost one in two Lebanese lives in poverty

Such a risk would be all the more problematic since, as Alexandre Kateb, economist and founder of Multipolarity Report underlines, even before the disaster “there were problems of access to food and various basic products for a large part of the population ”, nearly“ one in two Lebanese living below the poverty line ”and 35% of the working population is unemployed, according to official statistics.

Food prices are skyrocketing, with inflation reaching 109% between September 2019 and May 2020, according to the World Food Program (WFP). The damage the blast caused to the port is certainly not going to help matters. "Lebanon imports 80% of its food," Maya Terro of the NGO Food blessed told AFP. So she immediately thought of “empty supermarket shelves, price increases”.

After the port tragedy, the Lebanese fear a shortage of bread

 After the port tragedy, the Lebanese fear a shortage of bread © STR Silos ripped open in the port of Beirut, August 5, 2020 in Lebanon Wheat spills out of ripped silos, mixing with soot, to debris and cement: the explosion at the port of Beirut hit Lebanon's largest grain silos, causing panic among the population who fear a shortage of bread.

Default of payment

For months, Lebanon has been going through an economic and monetary crisis. Last fall, dollar withdrawals were rationed; at the beginning of March, Lebanon, which is drowning in a debt of 92 billion dollars, or 170% of the GDP, announces that it will not pay a first tranche of its debt, in the amount of 1.2 billion dollars. New announcement a fortnight later: all Treasury bills issued in dollars will not be reimbursed.

If Lebanon has come to this, it is partly because its economy has “suffered greatly from the turnaround in the oil situation and the drying up of petrodollars, knowing that a drop in transfers from Lebanese in the diaspora has also has been observed, ”notes Alexandre Kateb. He added: "its economy is very dependent on foreign capital" and has no "real domestic production capacity".

The coronavirus epidemic has only worsened the crisis

In default, Lebanon adopted a stimulus plan at the end of April and promised reforms. But negotiations that began in mid-May with the IMF have stalled.

Explosions in Beirut: Used to faulty public services, residents help each other

 Explosions in Beirut: Used to faulty public services, residents help each other Their city having been devastated by the blasts of August 4, Beirutis and Beirutis themselves manage the cleaning up of the damage, but also the purchase of food for the most deprived © AFP Volunteers clean up debris in a store in the Gemmayzé district, in the Lebanese capital, on August 6, 2020.

As for the reconstruction following the explosions of August 4, despite the global economic crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, Alexandre Kateb believes that finding international funds "will not be the problem, the main problem is in the implementation projects ".

► The port of Beirut shut down, an economic tragedy for Lebanon

Residential buildings destroyed, motorists blown away at the wheel of their cars as they went up the main north-south highway. It is because the port of Beirut is at the center of the capital. It is also at the heart of economic life. In 2018, 8 million tonnes of goods passed through it, according to the port authorities. With its four basins and sixteen docks over an area of ​​120 hectares, it is an essential transport hub in the eastern Mediterranean.

Already destroyed during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), it was rebuilt in the 1990s then experienced exponential growth the following decade with the development for the first time of transhipment activities in 2005. That is - that is, the transfer of goods from large ships to smaller ones which then reach other sites in the region: Syria, Iraq and the Gulf countries. The Port of Beirut is also a global node on the axis connecting Southeast Asia to Europe.

Mika publishes a poignant text after the explosions in Beirut

 Mika publishes a poignant text after the explosions in Beirut © Mondadori Portfolio “Mika writes his sadness, his anger and his hopes”, headlines the Journal du Dimanche before publishing on August 9 the text of singer Mika who has made a point of speaking out after the tragedy which affected his hometown, Beirut , on August 4, when two explosions of great power due to the fire of a nitrate deposit of ammonium rang out in the city's port killing at least 150 people and injuring more than 6,000.

With the destruction of this port, it is above all an essential power source that is lost. The transport of goods mainly supplies the Lebanese domestic market which is very dependent on imports. In 2018, 60% of the 20 billion dollars of imported goods passed through the port. This is largely because the local population has exploded in recent years, especially with the influx of refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

In the longer term, the Lebanese State will no longer be able to count on the revenues generated by the port. The port's activity represents more than 80% of the customs revenue of the financially strapped state and Beirut is one of the busiest ports in the region. International-scale shipowners operate there, such as MSC and CMA CGM.

The state of emergency decreed by the government to respond to the coronavirus health crisis had already postponed an important deadline for the site: a new call for tenders was to decide this year who would win the concession for this site. The problem is that today, no other port in this country can on its own compensate for the loss of this infrastructure. Not even Tripoli, the second city in the north of the country. The port will have to be rebuilt, probably bigger. But until then, the shutdown of the port will be very painful.

Explosion in Beirut: More than half of the hospitals in the capital "out of service" .
The WHO specifies that three of the most important establishments in the city are inoperable © STR / AFP Wardieh hospital , in Beirut, on August 5. HEALTH - The WHO specifies that three of the most important establishments in the city are inoperable More than half of the hospitals in Beirut , including three of the largest, are "out of service", according to a report of the World Health Organization (WHO), eight days after the explosion which devastated the Lebanese capital .

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