Beirut Explosion: Foreign Aid Effectiveness Amid Government Corruption
By Meredyth Dwyer
On August 4, 2020, Beirut, Lebanon, was shaken by a massive explosion in the city’s port district. The blast left two-hundred people dead, six-thousand injured, and 300,000 homeless, alongside an estimated USD 15 billion in damages. The United Nations determined that more than USD 100 million was required for emergency humanitarian aid and the rebuilding of vital infrastructures, such as hospitals (BBC, 2020).
The international community quickly responded. In an online donor summit arranged by France, global leaders pledged USD 297 million to assist with the crisis. A statement released by French President Emmanuel Macron held that assistance would be “timely, sufficient, and consistent” with the Lebanese people’s needs and that help would be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population, with utmost efficiency and transparency.” Moreover, the donors urged that the Lebanese government listen to its citizens’ demands: to reform Lebanon’s corrupt political structure (BBC, 2020).
Since Lebanon’s civil war ended in 1990, foreign aid has been a crucial component of its financial stability. Yet, foreign governments and aid groups have often worked directly with the very government they are now calling illegitimate. As such, according to Sami Halabi, these donors and aid groups have been at least somewhat complicit in creating Lebanon’s corrupted system of government services. So, with international donors and aid groups now demanding that Lebanon’s government be removed from its aid system, the most efficient and effective ways to deliver assistance to the Lebanese amid the nation’s complex geopolitical climate has been reconsidered (Halabi, 2020).
To remedy the problem of effectively supplying aid to the Lebanese, the World Bank, United Nations, and the European Union have released a new model for distributing aid to Lebanon. The model, titled the Reform, Recovery, and Reconstruction Framework (3RF), is an eighteen-month program that will “pool funds into a mechanism with a unique structure that empowers civil society” and releases funds directly to NGOs and businesses, such as the Red Cross (Saadoun, 2020). The 3RF is a collaborative effort between the UN, EU, and World Bank, the people of Lebanon, and the Lebanese government.
There are two tracks of the 3RF. The first is a people-centred recovery track that focuses on necessary actions, such as policy reforms and investment, to address Lebanon’s citizens’ critical needs. This track relies predominantly on international grant financing and immediate policy action to work. The second track focuses on reform and reconstruction, particularly infrastructure and essential services, which will be financed through public and private grants (World Bank, 2020).
Both 3RF tracks require Lebanon’s government to adopt reforms to be successful. Yet, despite these roadblocks, the framework provides a way to reimagine how the international community can distribute effective and empowering support to the citizens of countries requiring aid (Saadoun, 2020). Indeed, there appears to be a way for international donors to circumvent Lebanon’s corrupt government to provide struggling civilians with the help they need to get back on their feet.
As of December 10, 2020, former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers have been charged with criminal neglect leading to death and harm concerning the Beirut explosion (Qiblawi, 2020). Pressure from the international community has resulted in the beginnings of reform for the corrupt Lebanese government. Yet, through legislative and governmental reform, further change is required before Lebanon can truly recover its economy and infrastructure in the long-term. Indeed, foreign aid alone will not transform Lebanon, but it will help restore daily stability following August’s explosion.
BBC News. “Beirut explosion: Donors pledge aid for Lebanon but want reform.” BBC News, August 9, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53710556.
Halabi, Sami. “International aid can help Lebanon rid itself outfits ruling junta.” The New Humanitarian, August 20, 2020. https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/opinion/2020/08/20/Lebanon-Beirut-explosion-aid-government.
Qiblawi, Tamara and Ghazi Balkiz. “Lebanon’s prime minister charged over deadly Beirut blast.” CNN, December 10, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/10/middleeast/lebanon-pm-indicted-beirut-explosion-intl/index.html.
Saadoun, Sarah and Aya Majzoub. “An Innovative Model for Foreign Aid in Lebanon.” Human Rights Watch, December 15, 2020. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/12/15/innovative-model-foreign-aid-lebanon.
World Bank. “Lebanon Reform, Recovery & Reconstruction Framework (3RF).” The World Bank, December 4, 2020. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/lebanon/publication/lebanon-reform-recovery-reconstruction-framework-3rf.