Beirut, Lebanon – French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced a World Bank-hosted humanitarian fund for crisis-stricken Lebanon, saying relief would bypass the country’s increasingly ostracized politicians and go directly to the Lebanese people and trusted NGOs.
Macron spoke at an international conference organized by France and the United Nations that aimed to assess the disbursement of millions of dollars in aid pledged by the international community following the massive explosion of the port of Beirut in August.
The port explosion destroyed much of Beirut, killing 200 people and injuring 6,500. To date, Macon said $ 338 million has been disbursed for immediate needs such as food security, health care, education and the preservation of cultural and heritage sites.
The explosion also worsened the country’s economic crises that began last year as foreign remittances dried up, prompting mass protests demanding sweeping political reforms.
Since then, the Lebanese pound has lost around 80% of its value against the US dollar, causing soaring inflation, business failures and dramatic spikes in unemployment and poverty rates. A growing outbreak of COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm Lebanon’s fragile health system.
While ordinary Lebanese are in shock, the country’s ruling elites have left them perverted – blocking the reforms that are a prerequisite for unlocking the billions in promised international aid.
In a scathing report released Tuesday, the World Bank said Lebanon was in a “deliberate depression” caused by the actions – and lack thereof – of the country’s political and financial authorities.
The country’s economy shrank 6.7% in 2019 and is expected to shrink massively by 19.2% in 2020.
“As it stands, Lebanon’s economic crisis is likely to be both deeper and longer than most economic crises,” the World Bank report says, with another expected economic contraction of 13.2% in 2021.
Macron renewed his call for the rapid formation of a Lebanese government after the latter’s resignation following the Beirut explosion. The French president said this new government must commit to implementing a roadmap for reforms that all of the country’s major political forces agreed to in meetings with Macron in Beirut in September.
“These commitments, to date, have not been kept. Nothing shows so far that it was more than words, ”Macron said. “This roadmap is essential and it is in the vital interest of Lebanon. It is also the request of the Lebanese people.
Macron said France continues to keep its promise “to stand by the Lebanese people for the long term – unconditionally – for this part of our aid.”
He plans to return to Beirut in December – his third visit in four months – to keep up the pressure for reform.
But faced with an inflexible political class, some called on Macron to adopt punitive measures.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday took an unprecedented step by calling for “sanctions against members of the political class who have rendered the national justice system impotent.”
“France should work with other countries to sanction leaders against whom there is credible evidence of corruption leading to human rights violations, share this evidence publicly and initiate the process of asset recovery,” said HRW.
“If the Lebanese rulers can escape responsibility when half of the capital exploded, then they will not hesitate to sabotage reform initiatives and continue their massive theft of the wealth of the Lebanese people as the country rushes towards it. economic collapse, ”added the rights group.
France, which controlled Lebanon from 1920 to 1943, has repeatedly rallied aid to Lebanon over the past two decades, organizing four international donor conferences where nations and organizations pledged some $ 24 billion. loans and grants for development projects.
The CEDRE conference in 2018 was the last of these, where $ 11 billion was pledged, conditioned on reform. But these have never been implemented.
Wednesday’s conference was, in essence, anti-CEDRE – a conference about cushioning Lebanon’s collapse rather than pledging development loans in exchange for reforms.
Instead of money for new highways and power plants, the Lebanese have so far received 12,500 tons of wheat flour; financial assistance for 73,000 people and food stamps for 17,000; shelter for 25,000 people; repair work on 8,000 housing units; and supplies and equipment for 90 schools and around 30 hospitals, according to Macron.
The octogenarian president of the country, Michel Aoun, said in a speech at the conference that any help is welcome – “whatever its methods, mechanisms or tools, and whatever channels you adopt” – as long as ‘it was overseen by the UN and donor countries. .
Aoun said Lebanon is working to secure a $ 246 million loan from the World Bank to establish a social safety net for those who need it most due to the country’s current crises, including COVID. -19.