Lebanon awaits further aid on Beirut explosion anniversary

Third global conference set up to pledge more emergency funding one year on from explosion

A drone camera captures the scene at the port in Beirut, Lebanon, a day after it was hit by the explosion on August 4, 2020. AP
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The international community, led by France, is hosting a new conference to pledge further humanitarian aid to crisis-hit Lebanon on the first anniversary of the devastating explosion at Beirut's port.

Citing a UN estimate, France said on Monday Lebanon's new needs stood at $350 million dollars with the French president's office saying the country's woes have further deepened since the blast.

The explosion on August 4 killed at least 214 people and injured another 6,500 when hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate, an explosive chemical, detonated at a warehouse where it had been stored improperly for six years.

The explosion caused billions of dollars in property damage across the capital, affecting more than 219,000 people and 9,200 buildings within a three-kilometre radius. At least six hospitals, 20 clinics and another 80 healthcare facilities were severely or partially damaged, along with 163 public and private schools.

The blast and Covid-related restrictions compounded the worst economic crisis in Lebanon since the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990, and forced its government to resign.

Lebanon has since been without a functioning Cabinet amid a political stalemate that threatens to prolong the country's crisis.

Its currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value against the dollar since late 2019, pushing more than half the population into poverty in what the World Bank describes as one of the world’s top three crises since the 1850s.

Last month, Lebanon’s military chief appealed for international assistance to support the Army, warning that its collapse would lead to chaos and further insecurity.

The crisis is not only weighing on security forces but has led to a deterioration in public services and created shortages of vital commodities such as medication and fuel.

French President Emanuel Macron, who visited Lebanon twice after the blast, said he was working with international partners to ensure important public services could continue to operate in Lebanon.

The international community says billions of dollars in financial support and investments is contingent on the formation of a Cabinet that enacts reforms to fight corruption and kick-start the economy.

The French-sponsored conference, organised in partnership with the UN, will be the third since the Beirut blast and aims to channel aid directly to Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities.

The conference follows the designation of Najib Mikati, a billionaire businessman, as the third prime minister to attempt to form a Cabinet in less than a year.

The explosion prompted the international community to provide more than $300 million in emergency funding over the past year.

Within hours of the blast, the UN gave $14.1m of aid to support emergency operations in Beirut through the Central Emergency Response Fund and the Lebanon Humanitarian Fund.

Days later, France sponsored the first Lebanon international aid conference. The event on August 9 brought together more than 30 government leaders and officials, including Mr Macron and the then-US president Donald Trump, and drew pledges of more than $300m in emergency aid for victims of the blast.

Less than a week later, the UN-co-ordinated Lebanon Flash Appeal 2020 was launched to cover the needs of 300,000 people.

The plan sought $354.9m in support for Lebanon, a number that was later revised to $196.6m. The appeal formally ended on December 21, 2020 but some activities under the plan are continuing.

Those activities were integrated into the Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework, developed by the World Bank Group, United Nations and European Union.

The 3RF was formally launched after the second aid conference that was co-hosted by France and the UN on December 2.

As of April, $167m, or 85 per cent of the Flash Appeal amount, was disbursed through UN agencies, funds and programmes.

The aid was used to finance more than 103 projects in the education, food security, health, shelter and logistics fields among others, the UN said.

The EU, US and Qatar were the top three contributors to the Flash Appeal, providing 24, 18 and 6 per cent of the total funding, respectively.

Food security accounted for the bulk of contributions to Lebanon in 2020, at more than $50m, followed by $47m for shelter and $15m for education.

Another $118.5m, out of a targeted $136.5m, was disbursed as part of the Lebanon Intersectoral Covid Response Plan 2020, bringing total emergency funding to Lebanon last year to about $300m.

Lebanon received another $960m in 2020 as part of the Syria Refugee Response and Resilience Plan, bringing total aid received in 2020 to $1.6 billion.

The US contributed more than 30 per cent of the total amount, followed by the EU with 25 per cent and Germany with 22 per cent.

Lebanon has received another $570m so far this year to help it shoulder the burden of hosting more than a million Syrian refugees.

Updated: August 04, 2021, 5:50 AM