US unveils food and solar aid for Lebanon

USAID administrator Samantha Power is visiting the country for three days, as Beirut grapples with several crises

USAID chief Samantha Power tours a company in Zahle during her visit to Lebanon. Reuters
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US aid chief Samantha Power on Wednesday announced $72 million in emergency food assistance and $8.5m in funding towards 22 new solar-powered water pumping projects in Lebanon.

The food aid package will help at least 650,000 people, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said, including refugees from Syria and other countries living in the economically stressed country.

“While that is a huge amount of resources, a huge amount of humanitarian assistance, we know the needs are even greater than that,” Ms Power said while on a tour of an animal fodder processing facility in Zahle.

She said she looked forward to meeting with political leaders and urging reforms to resolve Lebanon's protracted political and economic crisis.

Leaders "are not yet able to come together to put in place the kind of longer-term political leadership that is needed in this country to make a set of vital reforms that will allow all of us in the international community to go beyond band-aids," Ms Power said.

USAID said in a statement that the aid would be distributed through the United Nations World Food Programme and would will provide household food parcels including rice, lentils, and chickpeas for Lebanese families, as well as "electronic food vouchers for Syrian refugees to use in local shops, which supports the Lebanese economy.”

In addition, the solar project will serve half a million people, USAID said.

Ms Power made the announcement while touring a solar-powered water pumping site on a three-day visit to Lebanon.

“More than half of Lebanese households are in need of some form of food assistance, a situation that has been exacerbated by Putin's war against Ukraine,” USAID said in a separate statement.

“This also has a negative impact on the millions of refugees Lebanon graciously continues to host.”

The World Bank's Spring 2021 Lebanon Economic Monitor found that the country's economic and financial problems rank among the worst economic crises globally since the mid-19th century.

Nominal gross domestic product (GDP) plummeted from close to $52 billion in 2019 to an estimated $23.1bn in 2021, according to the report.

In September, the International Monetary Fund called on Beirut to carry out critical structural and financial reforms, a prerequisite to securing $3bn of economic assistance.

The country is also grappling with a deadly cholera outbreak, with the country’s health ministry reporting more than 1,700 confirmed or suspected cases last week since the outbreak began in early October.

The outbreak has become so concerning that on Tuesday Egypt announced it would send 17 tonnes of medicine and vaccines to Beirut in a bid to help.

The aid was due to arrive by military plane in Beirut on Wednesday morning, the Egyptian embassy in Lebanon said.

On her trip to Lebanon this week Ms Power will also meet Lebanese and Syrian students, and refugees and residents from Lebanese host communities.

The visit comes just before Ms Power's trip to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt for the Cop27 climate conference.

Updated: November 09, 2022, 8:06 PM