International community pledges $370 million for Lebanon on Beirut blast anniversary

Emmanuel Macron blames Lebanese political leaders for severe economic crisis

The international community pledged $370 million in humanitarian aid for crisis-hit Lebanon at a donor conference on Wednesday marking the anniversary of the Beirut port blast.

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged $120 million and called on Lebanese leaders to enact reforms. US President Joe Biden announced $100 million in aid.

“Today I am announcing nearly $100 million dollars in new humanitarian assistance. That’s on top of $560 million of humanitarian aid that the United States provided to Lebanon,” Mr Biden said in a pre-recorded message to the virtual conference hosted by France.

But he said that “no amount of outside assistance will ever be enough if Lebanon's leaders do not commit to do the hard but necessary work of reforming the economy".

“That’s essential and has to start now. There is no time to waste, you all know it,” Mr Biden said.

Germany, Kuwait, Canada and Sweden pledged $50 million, $30 million, $20 million and $14 million, respectively.

The total of $370 million in donations was in line with what France said it was seeking from the international community to support Lebanon.

Mr Macron, who has visited Lebanon twice since the blast, blamed the country’s political leaders for the severe economic crisis, and said aid would be channelled directly to non-governmental organisations in the fields of education, food, agriculture and healthcare. The French president also pledged more than 500,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses.

The crisis, Mr Macron said, was the result of the individual and collective failures of Lebanon’s ruling class and its unwillingness to prioritise people’s interests over their own.

“The crisis that Lebanon is going through is neither fated nor inevitable. It is the fruit of individual and collective failures and an unjustifiable dysfunction. The ruling class in its entirety has aggravated the crisis by prioritising their individual and partisan interests over those of the Lebanon people,” Mr Macron said.

Mr Biden, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Lebanon's President Michel Aoun were among participants from about 40 countries and organisations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the International Monetary Fund.

The French leader addressed President Aoun and the country’s political class before threatening political leaders with sanctions if they failed to take action.

He said the EU had established a sanctions regime and members of the international community, including France, had taken restrictive measures against figures involved in corruption and blocking reforms.

“Lebanese leaders should not doubt for a second our determination,” he said, stopping short of naming any of the country's politicians.

He urged officials to quickly form a government and seek justice in the probe into the explosion that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.

Mr Macron said that since 2018 the international community had offered $11 billion in financial support for Lebanon in exchange for reforms, but “none of the reforms have been delivered”.

Today’s aid is unconditional, the French president said, but “there won’t be any blank cheques to the benefit of Lebanon’s political system”.

The priority now is for the formation of a government that enacts reforms to receive international financial support, Mr Macron said.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said that Lebanon will have access to about $860 million in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) but added that the funds will not help the country tackle its woes without a government that enacts reforms.

Lebanon has been without a functioning Cabinet since the blast forced Hassan Diab’s government to resign.

Since then, political bickering has blocked the formation of a government amid a worsening crisis that plunged half the population into poverty.

Mr Aoun said Lebanon was in need of “every assistance and support”, urging the international community to provide aid.

The blast and coronavirus-related restrictions compounded the country’s problems, while the probe into the blast continues to stall as Parliament continues to deny the lead investigative authorisation to question senior politicians and security officials.

“There is still no progress on the formation of a government or the implementation of urgent reforms. Given the dramatic deterioration of the economy, this is irresponsible,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Mr Aoun said he was committed to serving justice and ensuring those responsible for the blast were held accountable.

Updated: August 4th 2021, 4:35 PM