The explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in the Port of Beirut has created a massive challenge for residents and aid workers to heal the injured and reorganize a shattered city. Losing the port as an access point for deliveries is requiring traditional aid supply chains to be reinvented to deliver to Lebanon’s capital. This problem also extends far beyond the city. Before now, the entire Lebanese population of 6 million relied on the Port of Beirut for 60% of imports, including most of the country’s food and vital supplies. With state inaction and corruption to blame for the blast, the government has resigned, leaving cleanup and aid efforts without a single clear authority to call upon. Without a clear point of entry or local government, the international community has quickly organized to introduce new supply chains and deliver necessary aid however possible.
Just a few days after the blast, 20 governments and international organizations landed over 15 planes and 2 helicopters carrying more than 400 medical experts and rescuers, including 13 search dogs. 600 new temporary hospital beds have been set up to reduce the strain on damaged local facilities. Without the ability to land in the port, most of the supplies needed for immediate search-and-rescue and relief was rerouted through the Beirut Airport, which is normally reserved for mostly passenger travel. Medium-term aid, such as replacements for the 120,000 tons of grain held in the port’s destroyed silos, is squeezing through Lebanon’s secondary port of Tripoli, which has only one-third of Beirut’s former capacity. Without any grain silos remaining in the country, shipments are being sent directly inland to private millers for immediate processing.
An aerial view shows the massive damage at Beirut port’s grain silos (C) and the area around it on August 5, 2020, one day after a massive explosion hit the harbour in the heart of the Lebanese capital. – Rescuers searched for survivors in Beirut in the morning after a cataclysmic explosion at the port sowed devastation across entire neighbourhoods, killing more than 100 people, wounding thousands and plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. (Photo by – / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
The challenge will require more than healing those injured and rebuilding the city. Lebanon was already facing a struggling economy and took on the greatest share of refugees from war-torn Syria. Thousands emigrated to find better lives even before the blast. Reconstruction efforts must also be careful to contain a second wave of coronavirus. The next challenge—rebuilding the Port of Beirut before food supplies run dry—will be more difficult. Direct aid for citizens, such as temporary food deliveries and medical assistance, is popular for among the constituencies of international leaders. Building infrastructure for the corrupt Lebanese government is far less desirable. The task has, for now, fallen on the World Food Programme (WFP), a division of the United Nations. After clearing rumble to find survivors, the organization hopes to clear enough to build temporary port facilities. Mobile storage units, forklifts, cranes, generators, and more have already been delivered by plane to begin the task.
Without a central authority to organize shipments and deliveries, a mix of formal and informal organizations have worked to move as efficiently as possible. With international support, particularly from nearby countries, the WFP and medical aid NGOs are bringing supplies into the country and boosting medical capacity. Meanwhile, a vast network of extraordinary Lebanese citizens has organized to clear roads, deliver goods to those in need, and rebuild housing. Using Google Maps, volunteers have organized recycling pick-ups to reuse broken glass.
The tragic toll of this disaster will continue until permanent port facilities are built and trends in the economy and coronavirus stabilize, but the people of Beirut and aid workers have shown an incredible ability to reorganize through crisis and help those in need. Against the numerous challenges of this crisis, unique innovations in delivering aid and community action have proven to be resilient.
Check out our previous Supply Chain Standouts or learn more about increasing resiliency.