France seeks aid to Lebanon, but no rescue

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BEIRUT – France is hosting an international videoconference on humanitarian aid in Lebanon on Wednesday, amid a political stalemate in Beirut that has blocked billions of dollars in aid for the cash-strapped country hit by multiple crises.

The meeting, organized by France and the United Nations, is the second since the disastrous August 4 explosion that destroyed the port of Beirut and destroyed large parts of the capital. The explosion, which also killed more than 200 people and injured thousands, was caused by the detonation of nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrates that had been stored unsafe in a port warehouse for decades. years.

The explosion came amid an unprecedented financial crisis – made worse by coronavirus shutdowns – which led to spikes in inflation, poverty and unemployment.

In a disastrous report released on Tuesday, the World Bank said the Lebanese economy was facing a “difficult and prolonged depression,” with real GDP expected to plunge nearly 20% because its politicians refuse to implement reforms that would speed up the country’s recovery.

President Emmanuel Macron, whose country once ruled Lebanon as a protectorate, has pledged to push forward efforts to help the small country, despite the frustration of its ruling class. Lebanese leaders continue to resist reforms and have been unable to form a government after the latter resigned following the explosion.

A new government would be the first step towards the implementation of a French roadmap for reforms allowing the release of billions of dollars in international aid. Another key international request is an audit of the Central Bank. US consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal withdrew from a forensic audit assigned to it last month, saying it had not received the information it needed to complete its work.

The August 4 explosion, largely attributed to the negligence of Lebanese politicians and security agencies, drew the world’s attention to the corruption that has plagued the country for decades and left it on the verge of bankruptcy with empty institutions.

World leaders and international organizations pledged nearly $ 300 million in emergency humanitarian aid after the explosion, but warned that no money for the reconstruction of the capital will be available until the Lebanese authorities ‘will not engage in serious political and economic reforms.

Donors have pledged that aid will be coordinated by the UN and delivered directly to the Lebanese people, in a clear rebuke from the country’s entrenched and notoriously corrupt leaders.

The money raised at Wednesday’s meeting is expected to go directly to NGOs and other organizations for distribution to the public, bypassing the Lebanese government.

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