France Raises Aid for Beirut as First Anniversary of Port Blast Nears

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Published Aug 2, 2021 9:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, France will host an international conference to raise aid for crisis-ridden Lebanon, and it will coincide with the first anniversary of the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut.   

The UN-supported conference will be hosted by President Emmanuel Macron. It aims to mobilize resources to help the former French colony, which is struggling to recover from political and socio-economic impacts of the blast.

In August last year, a massive explosion ignited by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in one of the port’s hangars ripped through the port, killing over 200 people, wounding over 6,500 and leaving over 300,000 people displaced. The World Bank estimated the cost of the physical damage to be between $3.8 billion and $4.6 billion, with the economic losses amounting to $2.9 billion to $3.5 billion.

“To meet the needs of the Lebanese people, whose situation is worsening day by day, a new international conference to support the Lebanese population will be held on August 4 at the behest of President Macron, with the support of the UN,” said France's Foreign Ministry in a statement.

A similar conference soon after the explosion a year ago managed to raise $297 million from international donors.

France is hoping that resources mobilized from the conference will help bring stability to the country, which is experiencing a political and economic crisis. Unemployment rates are surging, half of the population is living below the poverty line and the Lebanese currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value since October 2019. These developments are making it impossible for the country to focus on rebuilding the strategic port.

A host of foreign companies from France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, China and others have been lining up to help the country rebuild the port, but the unending political crisis that erupted following the blast has left Lebanon with no clear direction.

French shipping giant CMA CGM and a consortium of Hamburg Port Consulting (HPC) and Colliers International are among companies that have put forward multibillion-dollar proposals to rebuild the port, which is of strategic importance to Mediterranean Sea trade routes.

Estimates show it will cost anywhere between $5 billion and $15 billion to rebuild the port and surrounding areas that were reduced to rubble by the massive explosion.

The Port of Beirut is the main gateway for Lebanon's foreign trade and mainly serves domestic demand handling approximately 90 percent of the country’s sea trade by value. Overall trade volumes at the port consist of approximately 90 percent imports and 10 percent exports, indicating a significant trade imbalance. Throughput at the port amounts to six to eight million tons of merchandise annually and mainly consists of container cargo, general cargo and dry bulk.