Commentary

A year after the blast: Lebanon Aug. 4 conference

France's President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he attends the Lebanon donors' conference, an online gathering of representatives of international institutions and heads of state, a year after Beirut port blast, at the Fort de Bregancon in Bormes-Les-Mimosas, southern France, August 4, 2021. Christophe Simon/Pool via REUTERS France's President Emmanuel Macron attends the Lebanon donors' conference at Fort de Bregancon, in BormesLes-Mimosas

A year ago, the world watched in horror as a massive explosion Beirut's pulverized Beirut Port and spread across the city of Beirut. More than 200 people were killed, hundreds were injured, and large suburbs were completely devastated in the explosion. The Aug. 4 explosion was one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts in history.

A year after the blast and even longer after the COVID-19 pandemic, Lebanon is undoubtedly worse off. The crises have intensified, the currency has lost over 90 percent of its worth, and food and medication have been in short supply. About 55 percent of the population is considered poor today, with 25 percent living below the poverty line, with the prices of 10 basic food commodities having increased by more than 700% since July 2019. The unemployment rate has reached 40 percent, while nearly 480,000 individuals have been left jobless, with 300,000 working as part-timers in non-permanent jobs. Moreover, merely 45 percent of the Lebanese have health insurance, unless supplied by the Health Ministry. Since the end of 2019, 70 percent of people leaving Lebanon are aged between 25 and 35. According to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor report issued in August 2021, more than 500 physicians, 5,000 nurses, 2,000 teachers, and 40 judges had fled the nation during the crisis.

Last week, on Aug. 4, 2021, exactly one year after the tragic anniversary of Beirut's terrible blast, an international conference was held to support Lebanon. Thirty-three countries, 13 international organizations and five members of the Lebanese civil society were present at the conference that came as a joint invitation of the French president and the UN secretary-general. The conference, which pledged $370 million in financial support for Lebanon to be spent over the next 12 months contributing to the most urgent needs in the areas of food security, water and sanitation, health and education, also emphasized the significance of launching a “transparent investigation” into the port explosion and the formation of a government.

The conference heard speeches from heads of state and government, diplomats and international organizations among which are the French president, the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, the US president, Jordan’s king, Egypt’s president, Canada’s prime minister, the president of the European Union, the director-general of the International Monetary Fund, and the president of the World Bank.

It was the third international support conference organized by Paris since August last year. Just two days after the explosion, President Emmanuel Macron was the first world leader to visit Lebanon. Following his visit, on Aug. 9, 2020, an aid conference for Lebanon was held serving as a first emergency humanitarian response. It was followed by a second conference in December 2020, which aimed to raise further funds and kick-start a medium-term recovery effort.

Three years after the CEDRE conference hosted in Paris in April 2018 and one year after the explosion, the Aug. 4, 2021, international conference examined numerous issues currently confronting recovery and reform such as mitigating the effects of subsidy reductions and establishing social protection safety nets. Participants at the Conference observed that the Reform, Recovery, and Reconstruction Framework (3RF) has been beneficial in improving donor coordination and involving civil society organizations. The conference revealed the Lebanon Financing Facility (LFF), a World Bank multi-donor trust fund, that will ensure a completely transparent implementation in collaboration with civil society subject to real-time assessment, and that contributes to the development of relevant public policies.

The Conference’s attendees underlined the significance of supporting Lebanon’s “areas of excellence,” notably education and health that should go hand in hand with the need for an early implementation of necessary reforms.

According to the conference, the country's development model has to be revised in order to ensure that the country returns to a sustainable and “people-centered” growth path. It was emphasized that humanitarian aid cannot be a “long-term solution” and the implementation of a program with the IMF must be coupled with the promise of a reformed governance and of a new development model rooted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

What are the hurdles and impediments that are still limiting the adoption of a human-centered strategy and attaining reform and sustainability?

Too frequently, “sustainability” is viewed as a result. It emphasizes the importance of shifting away from traditional sector-centered business models and toward new methods that include cross-sectoral collaboration and the incorporation of environmental and social considerations into all development processes. Furthermore, the broad public engagement in decision making is a crucial condition for attaining sustainable development.

From a human-centered viewpoint, development may be defined as a transformation that promotes human well-being by allowing individuals to make meaningful decisions for their own and society's benefit. This transformational potential is at the heart of current ideas presented at Lebanon's support conference aimed at improving governance and concentrating on community resilience in the face of the crisis, as well as other concerns of sustainability.

The idea of “people centeredness” emphasizes the need of putting the people themselves, who are supposed to benefit from development initiatives at the center of development efforts. It strives to encourage community transformation that involves restoring power over resources to the people to be utilized in satisfying their needs, including the essential requirements of justice, sustainability, and inclusion.

It is simple to say all of this, but it is not always simple to put into practice. A transformation nearly necessitates a change in mindsets and approaches.

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is Executive Director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.

 

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