WED 30 - 9 - 2020
May 8, 2020
The Daily Star
UN seeks $350M to help Lebanese hit by lockdown
Schenker: No US aid in COVID-19 fight due to Hezbollah role
Euan Ward| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The U.N. and its humanitarian partners in Lebanon launched Thursday the Lebanon Emergency Appeal, requesting $350 million from international donors to help those in the country most acutely at risk from the COVID-19 outbreak and its immediate socio-economic impact.
Lebanon’s already crumbling economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with the shutdown costing the country an estimated $2.5 billion every month, and unemployment rapidly on the rise.
With the virus outbreak compounding an already dire situation, the IMF estimates that Lebanon’s GDP will shrink by 12 percent in 2020, and that inflation will soon rise to as high as 17 percent – worsening a food security crisis for many families who were already struggling with crippling poverty even before the pandemic began.
"Through this appeal, the U.N. and partners are refocusing their work to best support the government and the people in Lebanon in the current circumstances," the U.N.'s interim Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Claudio Cordone said in a press release late Thursday.
"It is crucial to secure the requested funds so that those most in need can receive urgent humanitarian assistance," he added.
The onset of the virus in Lebanon has done much to highlight pre-existing vulnerabilities in the state, and has added further pressure to an already overburdened and chronically under-resourced national health system.
Not only were a quarter of acute medications out of stock in December, but the salaries of frontline medical staff continue to be reduced or go unpaid despite many working overtime as a result of the virus outbreak.
To add to this, because of a fumbling government response, financial support for those most affected by the virus has yet to satisfy urgent demand, with Human Rights Watch warning that unless some form of robust aid program is established soon, millions of Lebanese will go hungry.
Just last month, Lebanon’s Social Affairs Ministry said it had been forced to postpone a promised one-time cash distribution of approximately LL400,000 (the equivalent of $100 on the parallel market) to 187,500 families in need because of “mistakes” in the list of beneficiaries.
Since then, according to the Cabinet, the Lebanese Army has distributed cash assistance to around 40,000 families in need – but this is still way below the necessary targets.
Despite the fact Lebanon has done well to curb the spread of the virus itself, many are concerned about the lasting impacts the preventative measures could have.
“So far, Lebanon was able to ensure a strong and well-coordinated preparedness and response to COVID-19. Now, we need to remain vigilant and continue providing the necessary support as the outbreak is far from being over,” said Dr. Iman Shankiti, the WHO representative in Lebanon.
As part of this support, the U.N. has also set out to expand support to vulnerable refugees and host communities in Lebanon who are not included in the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan (LCRP), devised by the U.N. in 2015 to ensure that the humanitarian response to the Syria refugee crisis stabilizes Lebanon.
In total, according to the U.N., $216 million of the requested aid would go toward supporting the LCRP, and an additional $40 million will help support families during the virus outbreak who in the past have found themselves just below the cut-off for assistance despite living in abject poverty.
Schenker: No US aid in COVID-19 fight due to Hezbollah role
The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The U.S. has not provided aid to Lebanon’s Health Ministry for its fight against coronavirus, since it is “run by Hezbollah,” David Schenker, U.S. assistant secretary of Near Eastern affairs told local media Thursday.
“Certainly, Hezbollah is an enormous factor in this government, and it is a Hezbollah-backed government,” Schenker told local TV channel LBCI, explaining why the U.S. has not provided aid to the current Lebanese government for coronavirus relief.
Schenker said the U.S has sustained commitment to Lebanon and its people over the years and the aid it provides “contrasts greatly with aid other countries provide Lebanon.”
The U.S. is working with other institutions in Lebanon, for the country’s fight against COVID-19 and its economic crisis, Schenker said, and is providing humanitarian and food aid to suffering Lebanese people and refugees.
As Lebanon deals with its worst financial crisis in decades, the Central Bank’s role in it has become center stage, with its governor of 27 years Riad Salameh’s policies widely criticized in the country.
Schenker said the U.S. worked with Salameh to help Lebanon’s banking sector become capable of working with international financial institutions.
The U.S. official said Lebanon’s Central Bank was not totally independent and “has been following the cues of Lebanese politicians for years, and has kept the Lebanese financial sector alive, withstanding significant challenges for decades.”
Schenker noted that this issue would have to be “sorted out [as] part of the reforms going forward.”
Lebanon is required to enforce an array of reforms in the public and financial sectors to be able to unlock foreign aid, which is vital for rescuing the country from its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.
“The U.S. Department of the Treasury has worked well and will continue to do so with the Central Bank of Lebanon regardless who’s at the helm of that,” Schenker told LBCI, adding that the U.S. hopes,
“like with Riad Salameh, that whoever is in charge of the Central Bank has credibility and has the confidence of the international community,” since that will be essential in helping Lebanon get out of its financial crisis, he said.
Speaking about U.S. sanctions and its impact on Lebanon’s economy and the current crisis, Schenker said their sanctions “actually protect Lebanon’s financial sector, by getting rid of and attacking Hezbollah’s illicit finance, terrorist financing.”
The U.S. official said the sanctions single out specific accounts and institutions run by Hezbollah that “exploit the banking sector and tarnish the good name of Lebanon.”
He added that the Hezbollah-targeted sanctions will be critical for Lebanon’s recovery from the crisis, as it will impact its capacity to work with international financial institutions.
Schenker brushed off accusations that U.S. sanctions had caused the financial sector’s collapse.
“We’ve gone after one or two financial institutions like Jammal Trust Bank,” he said, adding that Lebanon’s credit downgrade from agencies like Moody’s and S&P earlier this year came in the weeks preceding the U.S designation of JTB as openly affiliated with Hezbollah.
The American official also said that the condition of Lebanon’s economy today is “squarely based on problematic policies of past decades.”
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