France pledges $17 million to Lebanon’s struggling schools

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, speaks to journalists during his visit to the Carmel Saint Joseph school in Mechref district, south of the capital Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, July 24, 2020. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
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Updated 24 July 2020

France pledges $17 million to Lebanon’s struggling schools

  • Jean-Yves Le Drian said France will not let the “Lebanese youth alone” face the crisis that has hit the education sector hard
  • Le Drian, who arrived here late Wednesday, said France could only help Lebanon face the crisis if Lebanese officials do their part, urging them to introduce much needed reforms

MECHREF, Lebanon: France’s visiting foreign minister pledged Friday €15 million ($17 million) in aid to Lebanon’s schools, which are struggling under the weight of the country’s major economic crisis.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said France will not let the “Lebanese youth alone” face the crisis that has hit the education sector hard.
Schools in Lebanon have let some teachers and administrators go and many face the risk of closure. Parents, struggling to pay private school fees, enrolled their children in already overcrowded public schools. The French assistance will go to a network of over 50 French and Francophone schools.
The economic crisis has impacted almost all facets of life in Lebanon, a small Mediterranean country long considered a middle-income state. Since last year, unemployment has risen and poverty deepened, as foreign currency dried up and the currency tumbled to lose more than 80% of its value before the dollar.
Le Drian, who arrived here late Wednesday, said France could only help Lebanon face the crisis if Lebanese officials do their part, urging them to introduce much needed reforms.
Le Drian is the first senior Western official to visit the struggling country. In stern public messages, he urged Lebanese officials to go through with an audit of the country’s central bank, reform a bloated and highly indebted electricity sector and maintain an independent judiciary.
France is the former colonial power in Lebanon and has previously organized conferences that pledged assistance to Lebanon but demanded reforms to the public sector and governance.
“Lebanon is on the verge of the abyss. But there are ways on the table to fix this,” he said Friday during a visit to a school in Mechref district, south of the capital Beirut.
During this visit, he said Lebanon is on France’s list of priority countries for humanitarian assistance, adding that his country already donated € 50 million ($58 million), primarily to the health care sector to deal with the coronavirus challenge.
But Le Drian said Thursday the only way out of the financial and economic crisis for Lebanon is to secure a program with the International Monetary Fund. Then, France and its allies can secure assistance to Lebanon, he said.
Talks with the IMF have been bogged down in internal political disputes and struggles over who is to blame for banking losses.
Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in years of mismanagement and corruption. It has deepened since the government defaulted on its sovereign debt in March, the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions that it brought.
Lebanon witnessed nationwide protests last October after the government, as part of efforts to introduce austerity measures, levied new taxes on messaging service WhatsApp. Protesters accused the government of mismanagement and years of corruption and eventually forced then-premier, Saad Hariri, to resign.
A new government, backed by the powerful Hezbollah group and its allies was formed in January and has since been bogged down by domestic rivalries on ways to proceed with reforms and the IMF talks.


Lebanon’s Tripoli port readies to fill in for blast-hit Beirut

Updated 47 min 31 sec ago

Lebanon’s Tripoli port readies to fill in for blast-hit Beirut

  • The vast majority of Lebanon’s food and other imports used to transit through Beirut port
  • Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs

TRIPOLI: Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli is readying its harbor to temporarily replace that of Beirut, which was levelled in last week’s massive explosion, officials said Thursday.
Tripoli port’s capacity is smaller than the capital’s, through which the vast majority of Lebanon’s food and other imports used to transit.
A fire at Beirut port on August 4 caught a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, causing an explosion that devastated swathes of the city and killed at least 171 people.
Immediately after the disaster, Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council ordered that the port of Tripoli be prepped for “import and export operations.”
“The port of Tripoli can stand in for Beirut on a temporary basis, for the time it will take it to be operational again,” Tripoli port director Ahmad Tamer told AFP.
The smaller ports of Saida and Tyre can also contribute to the effort but their capacity is limited and does not allow for bigger vessels to dock.
Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs and the UN’s World Food Programme has warned that the destruction of the main port could worsen an already alarming situation.
Lebanon’s economic collapse in recent months has seen it default on its debt, sent the local currency into free-fall and poverty rates soaring to near third world levels, all amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tamer said seven ships that were on their way to Beirut on the day of the gigantic explosion immediately rerouted to Tripoli, where they unloaded their cargo.
Tripoli had already undergone major upgrade works in order to accomodate increased traffic expected in connection with the reconstruction effort needed in neighboring, war-ravaged Syria.
Tamer said that before the explosion Tripoli port was only functioning at 40 percent capacity, processing two million tons of imports per year, with a capacity to absorb a maximum of five million tons.
The port director said that he wanted to launch a plan to increase work at the port and hire more employees in order to process more than its current rate of 80,000 containers a year.