Lebanon needs $2.5 billion to rebuild from port blast as aid conference begins

The EU, UN and World Bank have created a plan for recovery from the August 4 blast, which levelled sections of Beirut and left thousands homeless

France and the UN will co-preside an online humanitarian conference for Lebanon on Wednesday evening, a meeting on which the country is “heavily relying” to deal with the aftermath of the Beirut Port explosion, according to President Michel Aoun.

The humanitarian conference for Lebanon comes four months after a devastating blast sent ripples through Beirut, killing more than 200 people and destroying large parts of the capital.

The EU, UN and World Bank estimate Lebanon needs $2.5 billion to recover from the blast. A source close to the president said a recovery plan detailing the costs was presented to Mr Aoun at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday.

“Lebanon is heavily relying on the second international Conference, called for by President Macron and UN Secretary-General Guterres,” Mr Aoun’s office wrote.

The plan, named “framework for the reform, recovery and reconstruction of Lebanon,” will be shared at the Wednesday’s conference, where 35 nations and Lebanese civil society groups will discuss Lebanon’s future.

“We are hoping to get part of the funding from donor countries and the rest, the Lebanese government will have to figure out,” the source said.

The blast has caused $4.6 billion-worth of damage, a joint assessment by the UN, the EU commission and the World Bank found. Roughly $300 million in aid has been disbursed or assigned as part of the French-led initiative, a source close to the conference told The National.

The devastation from the blast is compounded by a year-long financial crisis and the economic downturn from Covid-19, which have pushed nearly half of the population below the poverty line according to data by the UN.

Lebanon’s flailing economy is set to contract by 19 per cent this year, the World Bank estimates.

The French-led conference, initially scheduled to take place in October as a reconstruction and relief forum, is supposed to be limited to assessing the results of a first aid meeting that took place in August, according to a communique by the French Presidency.

The conference will also "discuss the reconstruction of the port of Beirut and the revitalisation of destroyed and damaged areas", according to a UN source.

Any reconstruction efforts, however, will have to involve the government, which has yet to satisfy conditions set by Mr Macron and the International Monetary Fund for receiving funds.

Lebanon’s political leaders had promised Mr Macron in September to form a government of experts and enact a series of reforms, all necessary conditions to access international funds and debt relief.

These goals have yet to materialise.

Economic turmoil has so far been met with political inaction. A power vacuum has set in since August, when Prime Minister Hassan Diab stepped down in the aftermath of the explosion. Lebanon’s three-time Prime Minister Saad Hariri was designated to form a new government in October, one year after he resigned after mass anti-government protests, but he has yet to form a Cabinet.

Mass demonstrations have rocked the country for over a year. Chief among protesters’ demands is for the ruling elite to make way for a government of experts. Yet leading parties have refused to step down, instead stalling government formation with disputes over their share of the coming Cabinet.

Two days after the blast, Mr Macron visited devastated areas of Beirut, where he was met with large crowds of Lebanese, hopeful his visit may signify change. He shook hands with survivors and took Lebanese people in his arms. Mr Macron said at the time that France will not be handing funds to authorities in Beirut, widely viewed as corrupt.

“I am not here to back the regime.” he had told a crowd of Lebanese people gathered to meet him. “I guarantee this aid will not fall into the hands of corruption.”