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ON RE-BUILDING THE PORT OF BEIRUT - AUG. 2020

ON RE-BUILDING THE PORT OF BEIRUT                                                          Beirut Aug 12, 2020       

By: Abdallah Hayek P.E

Beirut as we know it died on the fourth of August 2020. Less than a week ago, we experienced one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history. 6 000 were injured. More than 160 were killed. Many victims are still missing. Our beloved streets and neighborhoods were razed to the ground. Beirutis are still trying to process the tragedy they just faced. They have witnessed the loss of their city. It is now our duty to give life back to Beirut. Re-building the Port of Beirut is an essential step.

The Port of Beirut is one of the biggest and busiest in the region.  It is 1,200,000 m², with a water basin of 1,202,000 m² (including the Container Terminal), a main breakwater of 3,190 m, and a detached breakwater of 550 m. It has a relatively high container-handling capacity, at 35,000 TEU/Hectare, receiving more than 1,200,000 TEU per year. Since the end of the Civil War, existing port facilities were renovated and new ones were built. Today, the Port of Beirut consists of a General Cargo Terminal, a Container Terminal, a Passenger Terminal, a Free Zone and a Crane Silo area.

It also neighbors some of the most popular and eclectic neighborhoods in the city. Right by Ashrafiyeh, it is in direct proximity to the residential areas of Gemmayzeh, Geitawi and the upmarket urban pockets of Sursock and Tabaris. This cluster also welcomes many public institutions (notably Electricité du Liban), private businesses, medical centers (Room, Rizk, Hotel Dieu, Wardiyeh), and universities (USJ, Sagesse, AUST). Gemmayzeh and Mar Mkhayel are also known for their vibrant bars and restaurants. The explosion destroyed most of them.

The Port is therefore a key component of the area. Damages stretch 1.7km at 700 m width, starting from Charles Helou Avenue, with an approximate area of 1.19 sq.km. In order to give life back to Beirut, we must make the best use of this space.

Re-building is no easy task. Public institutions, the private sector, and citizens must join forces to give glory back to the Port of Beirut.

First of all, the private sector must take a prime role in the re-construction and management of the Port.

History has shown us its’ efficiency in increasing capacity and productivity. In 2019, when the Greek government leased the ownership and management of the port of Piraeus to a private Chinese company, its’ stocking capacity increased from 2 million TEUs to 5.6 million TEUs.

Since the end of the Civil War, the Port of Beirut is owned by the Lebanese government and managed by Gestion et Exploitation du Port de Beyrouth (GEPB). In light of the reconstruction projects, it should be transferred into a B.O.T process, in which contractors will bare costs and run operations. When they break-even, they will transfer ownership and management to public authorities. China and the UAE are already competing to win a 25-year BOT tender for operations and maintenance.

Moreover, we have to look beyond its’ current geographical limits. We propose an extension of the port to the north of Beirut river, leaving the area impacted by the explosions to be renovated and converted into a community service zone.

The extension can stretch from Solidere to the Container Terminal: the new area will spread from the reclaimed dump land stretched from the North of Beirut River to the current limit of the landfill area facing City Mall. The under-construction Linor project can host the new Port area (dimensions of 2.12 km and 750 m depth). This is in addition to an approximate area of 1.6 sq. km for future expansions. It would require a maximum main breakwater extension of 2.2 km, or a 600m detached breakwater, depending on design criteria.

However, this does not mean that we should overlook the currently tarnished area in the Port. Re-habilitating it and giving it a new life could be a great opportunity for the city and its’ citizens. The currently tarnished area could be segmented into main 4 zones:

  • A touristic extension of Mar Mkhayel and Gemmayzeh
  • A diplomatic zone for foreign delegations
  • A sports and leisure zone for residents from the East of the city
  • An area to accommodate the green areas consumed by Solidere

Not only would this project reduce the traffic bottle neck to the north entrance of Beirut Central District, it can also be a great opportunity for job-creation in the city. In light of the ongoing economic crisis, such a project can be a great source of job opportunities of Beirutis. It will stimulate the local economy and attract attention to neighboring districts.

We, as Beirutis, are now facing a tipping point in our city’s history. We might be overwhelmed by the tragedy that surrounds us. We might feel tired, hopeless, defeated. However, we must look forward and get back to work after reconstruction. Brighter days are ahead, but we must take concrete actions to get there.

We must give life back to our Port, for it is the heart of our city.

Abdallah Hayek is the CEO of Hayek Group LLC, leading engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) company in Lebanon, established in 1951.

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