Beirut port explosion hammers Lebanon’s grain import capacity

BEIRUT, Lebanon (Reuters) — Beirut port’s capacity to handle wheat and other bulk cereal imports has collapsed to about a fifth or less of its level before a massive blast smashed its grain silos and other facilities, a senior United Nations official said.

But Abdallah Alwardat, the country director for the World Food Program, told Reuters that he did not see Lebanon heading toward a food crisis, although he said his organization was keeping a close eye and was ready to step in if necessary.

Beirut port had capacity to handle 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of wheat and other bulk imports each day before a huge Aug. 4 explosion destroyed the country’s only grain silos and turned warehouses and other port infrastructure into a mangled wreck.

But limited bulk handling of 1,500 to 3,000 tonnes a day had been restored, allowing the WFP to unload a shipment of 12,500 tonnes of wheat flour, or about half a month’s supply for Lebanon, Alwardat said.

Meanwhile the container port, further from the blast’s epicentre, escaped relatively unscathed and is now able to meet container import needs, port officials say.

“Our initial assessment (of the blast) was that this is really going to be a serious bottleneck,” the WFP’s Alwardat said. “But luckily enough what we have seen lately is the commercial sector in Lebanon has been picking up very fast.”

He said the response of commercial grain importers, which have been able to divert at least some supplies to other smaller ports, meant market needs were being met and the WFP was able to put on hold an emergency plan to import 100,000 tonnes of wheat.

But Alwardat said there was an urgent need to rebuild bulk capacity at Beirut port, which used to handle about 70 to 80 percent of Lebanon’s needs.

The need for imports to flow smoothly is all the more pressing because Lebanon does not have grain reserves.

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