'Lebanon’s future at stake' says Macron as world pledges millions

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - French President Emmanuel Macron urged world leaders to move quickly to provide vital aid directly to Beirutis as he opened a UN donor conference to raise millions towards rebuilding the shattered Lebanese capital.

Less than a week ago, a massive blast caused by a fire at Beirut’s port igniting tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed more than 150 people and wounded 6,000, leaving damage worth least $10 billion (Dh36.7bn) to over half of Beirut.

"We must act quickly and efficiently so that this aid goes directly to where it is needed," Mr Macron said. "We must all work together to ensure that neither violence nor chaos prevails … It is the future of Lebanon that is at stake."

France separately announced that a helicopter carrier and a cargo ship loaded with aid and supplies was headed to Beirut. France is sending 18 tonnes of medical aid to Beirut, including medicine, vaccines and hygiene kits, and 663 tonnes of food aid, the foreign ministry said.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun thanked the international community for its assistance and solidarity and said the damage wrought by the blast was beyond the country’s capabilities.

"The earthquake that struck us while we are in the midst of economic and financial crisis, in addition to the refugee crisis and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, makes confronting its repercussions beyond the capacity of this country," he said on Sunday.

He pointed out that "many officials and international relief teams who rushed to Lebanon sensibly examined the scale of the tragedy that affected all sectors, especially … health, education, reconstruction, and food security."

Lebanese anti-government protesters pull a protection wall leading to the Parliament square during a protest in Beirut. EPA

A protester strikes a wall with a metal bar inside the Lebanese Banks Association (ABL) headquarters. Bloomberg

Lebanese army soldiers stand guard by a shattered window inside the Lebanese Banks Association (ABL) headquarters during a demonstration. Bloomberg

Protesters break into the Lebanese Banks Association (ABL) headquarters during a demonstration. Bloomberg

A protester strikes the ceiling inside the Lebanese Banks Association (ABL) headquarters during a demonstration. Bloomberg

Protesters light fires inside the Lebanese Banks Association (ABL) headquarters during a demonstration. Bloomberg

A cloud of tear gas drifts through a crowd of protesters during a protest at Martyrs Square. Getty Images

Lebanese security forces run during clashes with anti-government protesters. EPA

A Lebanese anti-government protester flashes a victory sign and holds a blood-stained yellow jacket of a fellow protester during clashes with riot police. EPA

Protesters use fire extinguishers to block protesters' movements from the Internal Security Forces, not pictured, during a protest at Martyrs Square. Getty Images

Protesters move through a cloud of tear gas during a protest at Martyrs Square. Getty Images

Lebanese anti-government protesters face off with riot police. EPA

A Lebanese protester waves the national flag during clashes with security forces in downtown Beirut. AFP

A Lebanese protester speaks to soldiers at the headquarters of the Lebanese association of banks in downtown Beirut. AFP

An injured demonstrator is evacuated during a protest. Reuters

More than 30 international leaders and government officials were taking part in the video conference co-organised by France and the United Nations to raise money, including US President Donald , Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Officials from China, European countries and Gulf countries were also attending.

Immediate needs include about $85m towards medical relief. Money will also be directed at saving crumbling buildings and reconstructing damaged schools and hospitals. At least 200,000 housing units were damaged, according to a report to be presented to the conference.

The UK pledged £20 million (Dh95.8m) to help feed people after grain silos were damaged in the blast and the main import hub was destroyed.

It says the money will go to the World Food Programme to provide food and medicine for the most vulnerable.

“The devastation we have seen in Lebanon this week has left people without homes, medical care and wondering how long it will be until the country’s food supplies run out," said International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

“Today the world is coming together to stand by the Lebanese people, and as one of the biggest donors to this crisis so far, the UK is pledging more urgent support to help all those affected by this terrible disaster.”

The donation is on top of £5m of assistance already made available by the UK, including support for the British Red Cross for the emergency relief effort.

Germany pledged €10m (Dh43.3m) for reconstruction, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying that “even after the worst of the rubble is removed there will remain a lot to do” as Lebanon’s other crises have not gone away.

While no donation target was set for Sunday’s conference a French official told Reuters that there would be “no blank cheque to the Lebanese government”.

Mr Macron and other officials from the UK, Germany and the US have insisted that there will be appropriate oversight of aid to ensure that reconstruction money is not lost to corruption or white elephant projects. Much of the immediate emergency aid is being funnelled to international NGOs, the Red Cross and UN agencies.

President Trump confirmed three US aid-laden planes had already been dispatched to Lebanon and hinted at more aid being made available.

A top US aid agency official said that America’s $15 million (Dh55.1m) in assistance will not be under the control of the Lebanese government but is intended to go directly to those who need it most.

USAID acting administrator John Barsa said assistance would be directed to medical authorities at the American University of Beirut and the American Lebanese University.

A French official said Iran and Israel would not be taking part in the conference due to geopolitical issues.

On a visit to Beirut on Thursday, Mr Macron promised protesters in the street that he would ensure any money raised would go into the right hands.

We will also put in place clear and transparent governance so that all of this aid – whether it is French aid or international – is directly channelled to the people, to NGOs, to the teams in the field who need it, without any possible opacity or diversion," he said.

Mr Macron's visit provoked relief on the streets of Beirut. Despite gaining independence from the French mandate in January 1944, the two nations remain close, with French widely spoken in Lebanon.

Updated: August 9, 2020 07:05 PM

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