- French president says emergency aid must come quickly
- Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25% off of the country’s GDP
FORT BREGANCON, France: World powers must put aside their differences and support the Lebanese people, whose country’s future is at stake after a massive blast devastated the capital, French President Emmanuel Macron told an emergency donors conference on Sunday.
Lebanon’s debt-laden economy was already mired in crisis and reeling from the coronavirus pandemic before the port explosion, which killed 158 people.
But foreign governments are wary about writing blank cheques to a government perceived by its own people to be deeply corrupt and some are concerned about the influence of Iran through the shi’ite group Hezbollah.
In opening remarks to an online donor conference he co-organised, Macron said the international response should be coordinated by the United Nations in Lebanon.
“Despite differences in view, everyone must come to the help of Lebanon and its people,” Macron said via video-link from his summer retreat on the French Riviera. “Our task today is to act swiftly and efficiently.”
The president said the offer of assistance included support for an impartial, credible and independent inquiry into the Aug. 4 blast, which has prompted some Lebanese to call for a revolt to topple their political leaders.
The explosion gutted entire neighbourhoods, leaving 250,000 people homeless, razing businesses and destroying critical grain supplies.
Rebuilding Beirut will likely run into the billions of dollars. Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25 percent off of the country’s GDP.
Many Lebanese are angry at the government’s response and say the disaster highlighted the negligence of a corrupt political elite. Protesters stormed government ministries in Beirut and trashed the offices of the Association of Lebanese Banks on Saturday.
Macron visited Beirut on Thursday, the first world leader to do so after the explosion, and promised humanitarian aid would come but that profound political reform was needed to resolve the country’s problems and secure longer term support.
“I guarantee you, this (reconstruction) aid will not go to corrupt hands,” Macron told the throngs who greeted him.
There has been an outpouring of sympathy for Lebanon from around the world this week and many countries have sent immediate humanitarian support such as a medical supplies, but there has been an absence of financial aid commitments so far.
Macron said the international community had a duty to help. Aid should be funnelled as quickly as possible to public and private bodies, as well as NGOs, he said.
“Our role is to be by their sides,” he said. “Lebanon’s future is at stake.”
A Macron aide declined on Saturday to set a target for the conference. Emergency aid was needed for reconstruction, food aid, medical equipment and schools and hospitals, the official said.
Israel had signalled its willingness to help, Macron said, but together with Iran was not represented on the video conference.
US President Donald Trump will participate. “Everyone wants to help!” he tweeted.