German firms outline plans for Beirut port reconstruction

It could also create 50,000 new jobs and drive billions of dollars of economic activity through regenerating the area, backers said

  
Representatives of German firms attend a press conference to outline proposals to rebuild Beirut port, in Beirut, Lebanon April 9, 2021.

Representatives of German firms attend a press conference to outline proposals to rebuild Beirut port, in Beirut, Lebanon April 9, 2021.

Reuters/Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT  - German companies set out ambitious multi-billion-dollar plans on Friday to rebuild Beirut's port and neighbouring districts shattered by an explosion last year which deepened the country's already dire economic crisis.

The proposal to redevelop the port and create a new residential area from the ruins, with a park and beaches, could transform part of the capital that was devastated by the August 2020 chemical blast.

It could also create 50,000 new jobs and drive billions of dollars of economic activity through regenerating the area, backers said.

But it cannot proceed until Lebanon's leaders break a political deadlock which has prevented the formation of a new government and stalled economic reforms, which Western countries say must come before aid or investment flows to the country.

"The next step is from the Lebanese side," Suheil Mahayni, general manager of Hamburg Port Consulting, which is leading the planned proposals, told a news conference in Beirut held to explain the initial proposals.

Mahayni said there needed to be "a level of governance that facilitates the funding of the project" for it to go ahead.

The plan, presented this week to Lebanon's caretaker government, includes a variety of proposals costing between $5 billion to $15 billion, Minister of Public Works and Transport Michel Najjar told Reuters.

The German proposals "show continued interest in Lebanon and developing and investing in Lebanon which is a good sign at this time of the economic crisis that we are in," Najjar said.

The plans propose shifting part of the port operations, including some of the storage facililites, to areas of reclaimed land to the east of the existing port, which would allow three parts of the port's western basin to be converted to beaches.

The chemical explosion at the port last August killed 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed entire neighbourhoods in Beirut, sinking the country deeper into its worst political and economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The prime minister resigned days after the blast but remains at the head of a caretaker government amid political paralysis.

Western states have been pressing Lebanese politicians to agree the make-up of a new government to fix public finances and root out corruption.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans Editing by Mark Heinrich) ((Dominic.J.Evans@Thomsonreuters.com, @DominicJEvans;))

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