Lebanon urged to enact reforms after Beirut explosion

7 Aug 20

Disaster relief to help Beirut rebuild after the blast killed at least 145 people and left 300,000 homeless will be conditional on Lebanon enacting anti-corruption reforms, French president Emmanuel Macron said during a visit to the city.

 

He said Lebanon has been in crisis “for many, many years”, and that he wanted the tragedy to become a watershed moment for the country’s government – as he also announced that he would send security and medical personnel to Beirut.

“If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will keep sinking,” he told a press conference.

“Political change is also needed here. The explosion should be the beginning of a new era.”

A runaway deficit and one of the world’s highest debt burdens led to Lebanon defaulting on its debts this year for the first time in its 100-year history.

Many among the population blame the country’s political class, accusing it of ineptitude as well as corruption, and protests in autumn last year forced the prime minister to resign.

Global campaign group Transparency International listed Lebanon in the top 25% of the world’s most corrupt countries in its most recent Corruption Perceptions Index.

In November 2019, the World Bank urged the government to enact reforms on transparency and accountability, warning that the crisis – even before Covid-19 – risked leaving half of the population in poverty.

A deal between Lebanon and the IMF has stalled, with the small Middle Eastern country so far refusing to sign up to the strict reform measures proposed by the fund.

Speaking after the explosion, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said the international community needed to “step up to help [Lebanon] in this moment of urgent need”.

“The IMF is exploring all possible ways to support the people of Lebanon,” she added.

“It is essential to overcome the impasse in the discussions on critical reforms and put in place a meaningful programme to turn around the economy and build accountability and trust in the future of the country.”

Governments and international institutions have lined up to send aid to Lebanon following the explosion, including £6.9m from the UN’s Lebanese Humanitarian Fund, £5m from the UK and £2.1m from Norway.

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