Sharing the pain

Wednesday, 2020-08-12 11:18:46
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Volunteers remove debris from a destroyed bank near the Port of Beirut in Beirut, Lebanon, August 7. (Photo: Bloomberg)
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NDO – A recent virtual conference co-hosted by the United Nations (UN) and France has obtained aid commitments from countries for Lebanon, with a total support value of more than EUR250 million.

The donors’ conference on aid for Lebanon saw the participation of representatives from 30 countries, together with the European Union (EU), the Arab League (AL), the World Bank (WB), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). A statement from France’s Elysee Palace announced that world leaders have affirmed their solidarity with the Lebanese people and pledged large-scale resources to support the country. Among the main donors, France has committed EUR30 million, alongside about EUR20 million from Germany, while the EU has added a further EUR30 million to the EUR33 million previously announced. The US has also pledged about EUR15 million in aids for Lebanon. The donors’ funding will be distributed directly to the Lebanese people under the UN’s coordination and administration. In addition, the parties have committed to provide long-term assistance to Lebanon.

The initiative to organise the conference was launched by France in the context of the increasingly complicated situation in Lebanon. The explosion in the Port of Beirut has devastated the capital city, further deepening the “wound” in the Lebanese society due to the prolonged political and economic crisis. The blast has increased the people’s dissatisfaction with the government apparatus, which has inherently been accused of mismanagement, fueling anger among a large crowd about the difficulties they are suffering, as well as about the dim future they are facing. A wave of protests arose in Beirut, with thousands of people participating. Violence escalated as serious clashes occurred between police and protesters. The offices of some government agencies were broken into by demonstrators. According to observers, the Lebanese government currently encounters huge pressure in the face of rising anger from protesters.

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a donor teleconference with other world leaders concerning the situation in Lebanon following the Beirut blast, in Fort de Bregancon in Bormes-les-Mimosas, France August 9, 2020. (Reuters)

Before the explosion, Lebanon had plunged into a financial crisis, which culminated in October 2019 as investment flows slowed down amid social turmoil caused by protests against corruption and poor management. After experiencing the first default in March 2020, the Lebanese government committed to reform and began negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to obtain aid of billions of US dollars. After 17 meetings, Lebanon’s talks with the IMF came to a standstill from July, because the country did not agree with the austerity and reform measures imposed by the IMF. In a statement sent to the recent donors’ conference on aid for Lebanon, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva affirmed that this financial institution is ready to double its efforts to help Lebanon with post-explosion recovery and reconstruction, but with reform requirements enclosed, including the restoration of Lebanon’s public debt solvency and financial system stability, as well as interim measures to avoid capital loss.

The recent explosion at the Port of Beirut left 300,000 people homeless and caused approximately US$3 billion in damages. According to UN statistics, at least 15 medical facilities, including three major hospitals, were severely destroyed, while more than 120 schools were severely damaged, putting 55,000 Lebanese children at risk of education disruption. The UN estimates that over the next three months, the emergency assistance programme for Lebanon will need US$117 million for health services, shelter, food and COVID-19 prevention and control. With the capital severely damaged, the government of Lebanon currently has a lot to do to rebuild the country. Meanwhile, efforts should be accelerated to mitigate the impact on homeless victims before the winter hits.

Sharing the losses suffered by the Lebanese people, many countries have delivered medical equipment and necessities, and sent their experts to help the country address the aftermath of the explosion. Countries and international financial organisations have called on the Lebanese government to promptly implement economic reform measures to meet the expectations of the people. Meanwhile, many world leaders have called on the Lebanese people to avoid immersing themselves in conflict and to unite to focus their efforts on reconstructing and bringing the country out of the crisis.