World powers pledged 252.7 million euros ($298 million) in short-term aid for Lebanon at an international donor conference Sunday, held in the wake of a catastrophic blast at Beirut’s Port, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.
The “assistance should be timely, sufficient and consistent with the needs of the Lebanese people,” the conference’s closing statement said, adding that the money would go “directly” to the Lebanese population.
The statement also affirmed that world leaders were committed to supporting Lebanon’s long-term economic recovery, and urged the country’s leaders to commit fully to the reforms which Lebanese have been calling for since protests erupted in October.
The French presidency said the total amount included 30 million euros from France, with donors promised to provide emergency aid in the aftermath of the explosion that focused on medicine and hospitals, schools, food and housing.
Macron, who was the first foreign leader to visit Lebanon after Beirut devastating explosion, co-organized the conference with the United Nations.
Although the rebuilding needs of Lebanon are immense, so too is the question of how to ensure the millions of dollars promised in international aid are not diverted elsewhere in a country notorious for missing money, invisible infrastructure projects and its refusal to open the books.
Among the donations Sunday, the EU pledged an additional 30 million euros ($35.36 million) in emergency support to Lebanon, according to the European Commission – which will be distributed to UN agencies and NGOs and its dispersal “strictly monitored.”
Britain also pledged an extra 20 million pounds ($26 million) to help provide food to the most vulnerable, in addition to 5 million pounds already made available.
Alongside these, Germany stated it would provide an additional 10 million euros, on top of 1.5 million euros in emergency goods that have already been deployed.
At the onset of the event, Macron called for restraint following violent protests Saturday.
“It is up to the authorities of the country to act so that the country does not sink, and to respond to the aspirations that the Lebanese people are expressing right now, legitimately, in the streets of Beirut,” Macron said.
“We must all work together to ensure that neither violence nor chaos prevails,” he added. “It is the future of Lebanon that is at stake.”
The blast sparked deadly protests Saturday which killed a policeman and injured at least 728, as Lebanese begin taking to the streets in the thousands demanding accountability and justice.
“We have to act quickly, and this aid has to go directly to the people who need it on the ground,” Macron added , stressing that it was vital an international response under the coordination of the United Nations was drummed up for Lebanon’s devastated economy.
This echoes comments made the by the French president earlier this week that the aid would not fall “into corrupt hands.”
Macron also accentuated Sunday that the pledges raised “must only be the start,” repeating assessments by analysts and politicians alike that a more long-term strategy of assistance was needed.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, speaking at the conference, thanked Macron for taking the initiative to organize the event, while also extending his regards to other heads of state who were present during the virtual donor conference.
Nearly 30 countries, as well as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, EU and Arab League participated in the event Sunday.
“Rebuilding what was destroyed and restoring Beirut to its luster requires a lot,” Aoun said, stressing that there were large needs and that Lebanon needed to step up in order to meet them quickly.
During the donor conference, US President Donald Trump also urged the Lebanese government to conduct “a full and transparent investigation”, in which the US stands ready to assist. Trump also called for calm in Lebanon whilst acknowledging the legitimate calls of peaceful protesters for transparency, reform and accountability.
USAID acting administrator John Barsa also said Sunday that American help, some $15 million announced so far, “is absolutely not going to the government” of Lebanon.
Following the conference, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also released a statement stressing that although they were ready to redouble their efforts in the wake of the blast, they “need all institutions to come together determined to carry out much needed reforms.”
Among these reforms, the IMF stated that the solvency of public finances and the soundness of the financial system must be restored, temporary safeguards must be put in place to avoid continued capital outflows, steps must be made to reduce the protracted losses in state-owned enterprises, and an expanded social safety net must be in place to protect those most vulnerable.
“It is a terrible tragedy, coming at a terrible time. Lebanon has been struggling with profound economic and social challenges, aggravated by a pandemic, but even more so by the shortage of political will to adopt and implement meaningful reforms the people of Lebanon have been calling for,” said Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.
The money raised during Sunday’s conference is to be earmarked for rebuilding Beirut, suppling food aid, rebuilding schools and hospitals, and delivering medical equipment.
An “emergency response framework” drafted seperately by the United Nations earlier this week said that $66.3 million was needed for immediate humanitarian aid alone – including health services and food distribution, emergency shelters for those made homeless, and programs to “prevent further spread of COVID-19.”
Following this, Phase 2 of the plan will require $50.6 million to rebuild public infrastructure, rehabilitate private homes and prevent disease outbreaks.
At least 15 medical facilities – including three major hospitals – sustained structural damage in the blast, and extensive damage to more than 120 schools is forecasted to interrupt learning for some 55,000 children.
Adding to the misery, thousands of people remain in need of food and the blast interrupted basic water and sanitation to a number of neighborhoods.
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