Had somebody told me that we were to be quoted in the Washington Post, I would have called him nuts. After having seen on site what this explosion has done to the country and its people, I now know why.
Recap. On Aug. 4th, 2.750 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up in the port, causing the biggest non-nuclear explosion in a city ever. The blast was heard in Cyprus and smashed windows as far as 20km away. Seismographic stations detected the blast to be an earthquake of 3,5. The first time I saw the explosion on video, I thought it is some high-end Netflix production. Apocalyptic. Surreal. Reality and fiction blurred. After being in Beirut: it is no fiction. It is reality. And it has horrible consequences.
This disaster hit Lebanon already in the midst of political and financial crises. Lebanon hosts 1.5m Syrian refugees in a country of 5m only, which is the equivalent of 27m refugees when scaled to Germanys population. The consequences for the people are beyond nightmares. Thousands of people killed or injured, 300.000 homes destroyed leaving families homeless, economy in complete downturn with rampant unemployment, no access to savings as bank accounts are frozen. And, by the way, there is something else. CORONA. Lebanon has a very high infection rate. But what is CORONA compared to all the other problems. Just another life threat on top.
The government is neither trusted by the people nor has it authority to decide. And there is no money to spend. There is consensus in international politics that Lebanon has to implement reforms fighting corruption before it gets access to finance. So what do the people do? They put destiny into their own hands. They help each other. They are there for each other with this kindhearted, caring attitude so common in the Middle East. The Beirutis welcomed us with open arms. Many foreign delegations came to Beirut offering much, delivering little. The only companies that did much and talked little were Germans. Combi Lift immediately went to Beirut to salvage contaminated containers to avoid the next disaster. 59 containers are ready for shipment to be disposed. But they remain on site because the government does not pay.
Hamburg Port Consulting has been serving Beirut Port reaching back more than 15 years. The terminal cranes in Beirut are painted in colors of HHLA – the port of Hamburg the Lebanese call it. We helped select and supervise the installation of the cranes and as the question came, which colors to paint them, the Beirutis said: “Use the colors of the port of Hamburg. We feel deeply connected to you.”
And we feel deeply connected to them. So trying to help was an inner urge. And that urge pushed us not stopping with master planning a highly efficient port. What does that help when there are no funds? We wanted to go bold tackling the big problems: fighting unemployment by creating jobs, funding the refurbishment of the port, damaged homes, the preservation of the rich cultural heritage and offering affordable housing. By extending the port to the industrial zone and converting unsuitable port areas close to the old city into a community oriented, urban development will allow to finance the entire venture. Truck congestion will be moved from the city into the industrial zone and beaches will open to the public. Our partner Colliers International led by Professor Hermann Schnell has made a concept for the development. Discussion with the vibrant local communities of architects will start soon because listening and understanding the concerns has been the mantra from day one.
If built, the Frauenhofer Institute confirmed it will generate 50.000 jobs, USD 30Bill. of direct and indirect income over 25 years and generate a profit of USD 2,5 Bill. This profit will then be used to fund rebuilding the port, renew the city and provide for social living. A trust will protect the flow of money to ensure, that the earnings are spent only to the benefit of the Lebanese people. Transparency international will monitor that. If there is no clean governance in place, we will not move an inch. We made that very clear. “Money flows where trust goes” as the Washington Post cites us later.
Back to Beirut. It is April 9th, 2021. Our press conference. We sit on the podium in a building filled with bullet holes in the wall reminding us of the civil war. The room is packed with journalists. We just had four days to organize the press conference where the whole Middle East is waiting to see the “German approach”. The German Lebanese Business Council gave us incredible support. The German federal ministry of economic cooperation and development fully backed our approach. So impressive is the team organizing the press conference. All young Lebanese women, highly educated, skilled, working day and night with their fantastic work driven by the feeling of doing something for their families, their fellow people, their country, their future. And knowing that they do service to God. "Allah" in arabic. The same God of christians and muslims, the "Benevolent", the "Merciful". And the "Just".
30 cameras are starting to film live over various channels. The room is filled with expectations. We raise while the national anthem of Lebanon is played. This is a political event with the German ambassador on the podium and the governor of Beirut our host. Then the German anthem. Tania puts the remote control into my hands. She whispers to me to press the button so that Alia Fares will appear streamed from Germany with the screen split: her on one side, the presentation on the preservation of cultural heritage on the other. "Is that going to work", I whisper back. "Yes" she replies calmly, "trust us". 'Never can that work', I think. This is technically not easy. Internet and power break off frequently. If you can't run a refrigerator without interruption, how can you? And the whole Middle East is going to watch that live.
I hold my speech. Then Lars. Then Hermann. Then the ambassador. Now it is time to pass on to Alia. I press the button and wait for our fate. The screen splits. Anxiously, we await a sound of life, like from a space ship, just having circled the dark side of the moon. Alia appears. We hear her voice loud and clear. Flawlessly. Seamlessly. Electricity been backed up by diesel generators. Perfect. The perfect result of a perfect team.
Looking back, I am overwhelmed by this experience. Putting our fate into the hands of these amazing women we only met four days ago, relying on them completely and not having been led down with the stakes so high made me truly understand, what people can do, if they are bound by a common cause worth fighting for, professional in what they do and who can rely on each other completely.
The response of the media has been overwhelmingly positive. It is viewed so far and by far to be the most comprehensive, holistic and ambitious approach. Different opinions were raised, if the concept of the urban development needs to be adjusted. We will start the dialogue immediately. Finding the interest of the Lebanese people has been the most important step for us. Because it is only about them. If the Lebanese government allows us, we will move forward with the same commitment and ambition trying to overcome any obstacles to make this ambitious project become reality – "to the benefit of the Lebanese people", as the Washington Post later cites. And only then.
Click here to read the full article: Washington Post
About the author:
Suheil Mahayni joined the company as Managing Director in May 2020. Prior to HPC, Suheil worked for the Lufthansa Group, where he held various senior sales positions at Lufthansa Technik since 2004. This article was first published on his LinkedIn account, click here.