Lebanese, French officials float plan to rebuild Beirut port nearly 4 years after of huge explosion

Lebanese, French officials float plan to rebuild Beirut port nearly 4 years after of huge explosion
Lebanese and French officials are floating a plan to reconstruct Beirut port, three years after the explosion in August 2020.
3 min read
Beirut port, the site of a huge blast which devastated the Lebanese capital almost three and a half years earlier [GETTY]

Three and a half years after hundreds of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate ignited at the Beirut port, setting off one of the world's biggest non-nuclear explosions, Lebanese and French officials put forward a plan for reconstruction and reorganization of the port Wednesday.

The 4 August 2020 explosion at Beirut's port killed more than 200 people, injured and displaced thousands and devastated entire neighbourhoods of the city.

Since then, an investigation into the causes of the blast has ground to a halt, and reconstruction of the damaged areas has largely been carried out piecemeal with private funding as international funds promised for rebuilding were largely contingent on political reforms that never materialized.

A number of proposals for reconstructing and redeveloping the still-functioning port have floundered, including an ambitious plan suggested in 2021 by a group of German companies to redevelop the port alongside new commercial and residential developments.

In 2022, French shipping giant CMA CGM Group won a 10-year contract to run the port's container terminal.

The French government funded the plan development presented Wednesday by two French engineering firms, Artelia and Egis. It will focus on rebuilding quays damaged in the explosion, reorganizing the port's layout to streamline traffic, and shifting the facility to solar power. A French public agency, Expertise France, conducted an assessment with recommendations for improving security at the port.

Lebanon will need to raise an estimated $60- $80 million to complete the reconstruction. The port's Director General Omar Itani said at a press conference Wednesday that it plans to use the port's revenues, which have been on the rise after a slump amid the COVID-19 pandemic and Lebanon's descent into an unprecedented economic crisis, to reach $150 million in 2023.

The Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and French Ambassador to Lebanon were in attendance, along with representatives of the French companies.

Mikati told reporters that Lebanon and France have "strong historical relations that we are proud of," referring to ties that go back to when the small Arab nation was a French protectorate after World War I until independence in 1943.

"We consider France's support for Lebanon particularly important because it represents the heart of the international community," he said.

Magro said rebuilding the Beirut port is one of France's "priorities in our support for Lebanon." He added: "The Lebanese economy needs a reconstructed, modernized and secure port of Beirut."

However, the plan presented Wednesday did not address the fate of the port's massive grain silos, which had absorbed much of the shock of the explosion, effectively shielding the western part of Beirut from the blast.

The Lebanese government at one point planned to demolish the damaged silos but decided against it after families of the blast's victims and survivors protested, demanding their preservation as a memorial in case they might contain evidence useful for the judicial probe.

A large portion of the silos collapsed in 2022, while the remaining section has been left in place.