Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 29 November 2020

Beirut explosion leaves city short of bread and wheat

The country’s main hub for international trade lies in ruins with wheat stocks to now be redirected to a reduced-capacity Tripoli port

The day after two explosions ripped through the Lebanese capital, stunned residents struggled to find daily necessities in a city strewn with broken glass and other debris.

With smoke still rising from the portside wreckage of the blast site, there were long queues at ATM machines and sparsely stocked bakeries as panic buyers flocked to stores in fear of a bread or wheat shortage.

Bread lines are already a common sight in Lebanon, as the country suffers a severe economic crisis.

Imports have become prohibitively expensive, forcing the central bank to dip into its reserves to subsidise items such as wheat, fuel and medicine.

The incident – a huge ammonium nitrate explosion sparked by an as yet unknown cause – destroyed the nation's main wheat silo and left Beirut port largely unusable.

The Tripoli port in north Lebanon will now serve as the country’s main shipping centre after the incident, with wheat a critical key priority the country has grain reserves for only “a bit less than a month”, according to Economy Minister Raoul Nehme.

Paul Boulos, owner of Sea Slim bakeries – which has three branches in Beirut – said that his bakeries were not damaged in the explosion and were open.

But he was not sure what affect the loss of wheat stores would have on his business. “Of course I have to open, we have to work and live,” he told The National.

“They say that the wheat containers have exploded ... I bought wheat this morning with no problems but I need one to two tonnes a day. Will there be wheat, will there be no wheat? No idea.”

With all the glass shattered at the bakery that supplies his shops, he said it would cost him $10,000 (Dh36,729) to make the necessary repairs.

Lebanon relies on privately owned mills to import wheat from Ukraine, Russia and other European countries.

The government used to buy wheat from local farmers at above-market prices but has not done so in years.

Mr Nehme said that to be food secure, the country needs nearly three months of supply, but that the government had the crisis in hand.

“There is no bread or flour crisis,” the minister said. “We have enough inventory and boats on their way to cover the needs of Lebanon in the long term. We are currently looking for storage areas."

Other business owners suffered a more direct blow to business. Simon Douaihy, who owns a 70-year-old sweet shop is the Sassine neighbourhood, said it would take two to three months to replace the broken glass in its shattered facade.

“Everybody in the country needs glass now,” he said.

Updated: August 5, 2020 07:09 PM

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