Lebanon is running out of food after the Beirut explosion wrecked its main port — leaving a bottleneck for supplies that may see the country go hungry
- The port at
Beirut, by far the largest in Lebanon, was rendered inoperable in the August 4 blast that brought the country to its knees.
- The loss of the port, and much of the nation's food stockpiles, has created a bottleneck, a Lebanese official told Insider.
- Before the blast, 90% of Lebanon's food imports came through the port.
- Lebanon's second biggest port now faces a bottleneck due to overwhelming demand for food and other imports.
- Lebanon has land borders with Syria and Israel, but they are sworn enemies, meaning there is no hope of importing food by land.
The destruction of Beirut's port in a huge explosion last week has left Lebanon in a seemingly impossible position where it may run out of bread.
According to a senior Lebanese official who spoke to Insider, the loss of the port, along with much of the nation's food stockpiles, has created a severe bottleneck.
The immediate effect of the Beirut explosion — caused when a stockpile of explosive fertilizer detonated on August 4 — was to kill some 200 people and injure thousands more.
It also wrecked the port, which is how 90% of Lebanon's goods typically enter the country. Lebanon imports almost everything consumed there, leaving domestic industries poorly-placed to cover the shortfall.
The port was also home to vast stockpiles of grain, and much of the nation's storage capacity, now lost as well.
The official who spoke to Insider works for the Ministry of the Economy, asked for anonymity given the political crisis currently roiling Lebanese politics. The country's whole government resigned earlier this week.
He described a scramble, and a looming crisis, as officials try to replace the lost food stockpile and avoid widespread hunger striking the already-crippled nation.
Officials like him are being forced to make tough decisions about what to prioritize, with hundreds of thousands now homeless in Beirut while resources run low.
With Beirut port gone, Lebanon has few alternatives.
Lebanon's only land borders are with Israel and Syria, neither of which are good options.
Syria has been in civil war for a decade, while Lebanon has technically been at war with since 1948, making neither a viable route for supplies.
Some supplies are being flown in by cargo planes, but moving goods by air is vastly less efficient than by sea, and there are also problems with storing the cargo when it lands.
The result, according to the Lebanese official, is an intense bottleneck at Lebanon's second port in the northern city of Tripoli.
"Trablus Port has about 20 percent of Beirut's capacity until now, this will need to be expanded," said the official, using the local name for Tripoli.
"Lebanon needs about 45,000 tons of grain each month for bread... But we also need immediate food and medical aid for the wounded and homeless, we need more engineering and construction equipment to help East Beirut, and we will need many tons of concrete and glass to repair the city."
The numbers supplied by the official are consistent with what international experts told the Reuters news agency last week.
"Lebanon does not have the capacity to import these things without Beirut's port."
Foreign aid — including from some militaries — are carrying out works to build temporary storage facilities, but the official said that it would take time for Lebanon to made proper use of them
"The [flour] mills have about ten days of wheat left, maybe two weeks at maximum," said the official.
He said that countries including Ukraine had committed to sending enough wheat to resolve an immediate crisis, but that they will struggle to get it from Tripoli to the people who need it.
In a report on Wednesday, the UN called for an immediate expansion of Beirut's facility to increase its emergency capacity to offload humanitarian and economic aid.
"Augmentation of the Beirut Port facilities is essential to avoid interruptions and disruptions in food supply lines," the report said.
It said the UN World Food Programme had sent three cargo planes with equipment to establish temporary grain storage facilities at Beirut to help process the estimated 50,000 tons of grain already been earmarked to relief efforts.
The first shipment of 17,500 tons is expected to arrive in Tripoli next week, but the UN report warned of supply chain problems and congestion in the Tripoli port, around one-third the size of Beirut.
Lebanon was in a fragile state even before the explosion.
Its economy had been crushed by a debt crisis that sank the value of the local currency by 80% over the last year, as well as endemic corruption and mismanagement.
An inability to deliver as basic a service as bread might be the final straw for the nation, said one political activist, who warned of potential violence should food supplies fail.
There have been repeated clashes around parliament between security forces and protesters each day since the blast.
In response, Lebanon empowered its military to take more sweeping action to suppress the unrest. a
The activist, former army officer Abu Fadi, told Insider: "Before the Lebanese were angry because they had no money and no electricity.
"Now they have no windows and many do not have homes. If there is no bread, the people will be forced to violence. No electricity, no home, no bread? That's a revolution."
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