The Conference in Support of the Population of Lebanon took place on 4 August 2021 by videoconference, at the joint invitation of the President of the French Republic and the United Nations Secretary-General. Thirty three States, thirteen international organizations and 5 representatives of Lebanese civil society took part in the discussions.
A year ago today, a terrible explosion devastated the port of Beirut and the surrounding areas. The international community expressed its solidarity. A support conference, convened on 9 August 2020, organized an initial emergency humanitarian response. A second conference was held on 2 December 2020, to generate additional support and foster the beginning of a medium-term recovery effort.
A year after the explosion, the participants in the Conference, and the Lebanese people, have commemorated this tragic anniversary, seen a major deterioration of the living conditions of Lebanon’s whole population and called for accountability from the Lebanese political class to ensure full light is shed on the explosion.
Today, the crisis is affecting all of Lebanon and all its inhabitants. This crisis is economic and financial, and is one of the three worst in the world since the mid-19th century according to the World Bank. This is also a social crisis, as essential needs and supplies of basic services are no longer being delivered to a large part of the population. It is also a food crisis, and is turning into a humanitarian crisis. It is a political crisis, whose responsibility lies on the political leaders, marked by the stalemate in the formation of a government capable of implementing the most urgent reforms. Lastly, this is a crisis of confidence, both between the people of Lebanon and its leaders, and between those leaders and the international community.
In this particularly difficult context, the Conference has welcomed the fact that the totality of the aid promised a year ago has been disbursed. The participants have responded to a further UN humanitarian appeal for $357 million for the coming 12 months, pledging support in finance of a total in the order of $370 million dollars, to which should be added substantial in-kind assistance. The aim in particular is to address the most urgent food security, water and sanitation, and health and education needs.
The participants highlighted that this additional support aims to save lives and is in no way a lasting solution to the difficulties Lebanon is confronted with. These require first and foremost the formation of a government that implements the reforms promised since the CEDRE conference in 2018, which were recalled on 1 September 2020 in the roadmap agreed by all Lebanon’s political forces. The participants underlined that the implementation of these decisions remains critical for any structural financial support on their part.
The Conference’s participants welcomed the designation of Mr Najib Mikati as Prime Minister and called for a government that would be dedicated to the country’s rescue.
As soon as it is formed, the new government would need to dedicate itself to swiftly launching, conducting and concluding negotiations in good faith with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It will also have to prepare the 2022 elections, which must be transparent and impartial and be held according to the planned schedule.
The Conference discussed the measures required by the worsening of the crisis.
The gradual lifting of subsidies for essential products should take place alongside the creation of social protection safety nets, including through the immediate implementation of the World Bank’s Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) loan. The distribution of pre-paid cards and the preparation of the lists of beneficiaries it requires should be delivered in full transparency.
The Conference’s participants noted that the Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (3RF) has been implemented and allows better donor coordination and a major role for civil society. The Lebanon Financing Facility (LFF), a World Bank multi-donor trust fund, should begin disbursements without bureaucratic obstacles in the days following this Conference, paying the first donations to SMEs. Current contributors encourage other donors to join them.
At a time when the Lebanese economy is in a deep recession, the banking and financial sector needs to play its normal role of financing the real economy. Addressing the financial crisis needs to start immediately, under a plan and a Banking Resolution Act based on fair, transparent rules that ensure the actors of this financial crisis contribute.
The participants noted that Lebanon will soon receive its share (around $900 million) of the universal and unconditional allocation of IMF special drawing rights, with the key aim of addressing the recession and the consequences of the global public health crisis. They recommended that the use of these resources be decided in a fully transparent manner, in liaison with civil society, be subject to monitoring in real-time and ex-post evaluation, and, lastly, contribute to the preparation of appropriate public policies. They agreed to follow attentively and come back to this subject.
The participants considered that, in accordance with the expectations of the Lebanese people, the country’s development model needs to be overhauled to ensure the country gets back into a sustainable and people-centred development process. Humanitarian assistance cannot be a long-term solution and the development of a programme with the IMF must be linked to the prospect of a renewed governance and of a new development model anchored in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The participants were concerned about delays to the inquiry into the 4 August explosion. They also noted with concern the operational situation of the port of Beirut. They called on the Lebanese authorities to immediately take the measures required for adequate maintenance and for the reconstruction of the parts of the port that were destroyed.
Lebanon’s greatest asset is its people. The crisis and the effects of the political stalemate are leading increasing numbers of Lebanese people to leave their country. That is a major risk for the country’s future, and is already undermining Lebanon’s sectors of excellence, particularly education and health.
The Conference’s participants highlighted that the formation of a government to immediately implement the indispensable reforms is the first step in a sustained effort to address the challenges faced by Lebanon. The participants stand alongside the Lebanese people on this path and intend to continue their dialogue with Lebanon’s national institutions and civil society. They confirmed their determination to make use of all available instruments to provide direct support to the population. However, structural economic and financial assistance will require profound changes expected from Lebanon’s leaders.