Roots of Lebanon’s crisis lie in the country and so do the solutions, experts say

Roots of Lebanon’s crisis lie in the country and so do the solutions, experts say
If there is adequate response to the crisis we can face (those) challenges, says Kumar Jha. (AP)
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Updated 09 July 2021

Roots of Lebanon’s crisis lie in the country and so do the solutions, experts say

Roots of Lebanon’s crisis lie in the country and so do the solutions, experts say
  • International assistance can only effect change if the people of Lebanon seize the opportunity, warns the UN’s special coordinator
  • Reforms are vital but the electricity sector has the greatest multiplier effect and should be tackled first, says World Bank’s regional director

NEW YORK: The severity of the economic and financial crisis in Lebanon is the result of “a lack of any policy action whatsoever by those who are responsible for taking policy action,” according to Kumar Jha, regional director of the Mashreq department at the World Bank Group.
In June the World Bank published a report titled “Lebanon Sinking to the Top 3,” in which it ranked the Lebanese crisis in “the top 10, possibly top 3,” most-severe global crises since 1850.
“Crisis does impact many countries but if there is adequate response to the crisis in terms of mitigation, prevention, preparedness and taking the economy on a forward path, we can face (those) challenges,” said Jha. He lamented the “sheer lack of governance, and corruption in every sector” in Lebanon.
He was speaking at the UN High Level Political Forum on the progress of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Set by the UN in 2015, with the aim of achieving them by 2030, the 17 global goals were designed as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”
During a discussion of SDG 16 — which relates to peace, justice and strong institutions — Jha said that the World Bank warned of the economic depression in Lebanon more than seven months ago but “there has been no response pretty much since then, and as a result you will continue to see Lebanon sinking.”
He added: “The situation in Lebanon is purely self-inflicted; it is man-made.”
Of all the crises afflicting the country, Jha in particular highlighted the “very serious learning crisis.” He said Lebanese children participating in international assessment tests are “not doing well at all. They are pretty much at the bottom of the Arab region now, compared with a time when Lebanon was at the top.”
This human dimension to the crisis is compounded by extreme levels of poverty, unemployment and deprivation. “Lebanon has never seen this level of destitution,” Jha added.
The nation is facing multiple crises: in addition to the financial and economic collapse, it is struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and still reeling from the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port on Aug. 4 last year.
Nearly a year after the blast — which claimed more than 200 lives, injured more than 6,000 and left many more homeless, and cost the country up to $4.5 billion in damages — experts from the UN and the World Bank discussed the prospects for the country.
Joanna Wronecka, the UN’s special coordinator for Lebanon, highlighted the international assistance that is being provided, from the establishment of the International Support Group for Lebanon in 2013 to the ongoing Crisis Response Plan in cooperation with the UN, EU and the World Bank.
But she said the ability of international help to effect change ultimately depends on the people of Lebanon seizing the opportunity.
“When you have friends, opportunities should not be wasted,” Wronecka said. She called on the Lebanese authorities to immediately activate structural reforms, reiterating that “a new government should be formed but putting the people of Lebanon first is a top priority.”
Another high priority is the protection of the vulnerable, including the sick, the elderly and children, she added.
The session’s moderator, Nadim Ladki, editor-in-chief of the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper, said that not even during the prolonged Lebanese Civil War had there been such a level of despair and hopelessness as exists now.
A new, “inclusive” vision for the future of Lebanon that enshrines a culture of accountability could offer renewed hope to the Lebanese, Wronecka suggested.
Turning to specific reforms, Jha said it would be unfair to produce a long list of reforms and expect them all to be implemented at once.
“If everything is important, nothing is important,” he said.
Instead, he called for a single reform to be prioritized as a matter of urgency: “Let us just agree: electricity, electricity, electricity.”
The electricity sector accounts for a large portion of the Lebanese debt.
“This will help solve fiscal issues, attract new investment, and there are ways to do it,” Jha added. “You can go big time on solar and wind, you can go big on renewable energy, you can clean up the sector, focus on governance, an independent regulator, a much more commercially viable utility, and bring more of the private sector into generation, distribution and transmission.
“This is all doable. Lebanese themselves have produced these reform papers many times over the past 30 years.
“I am picking one sector because that sector has the greatest multiplier effect, in terms of addressing the fiscal deficit, reducing the total debt … and helping create jobs in the economy by attracting new investment.
He concluded with a message to Lebanese political groups and stakeholders: “Let’s agree on a national dialogue. Let’s work in the next 12 months on the electricity sector and fix it. We can look at other issues later.
“And we are more than happy to provide any support needed. We have said that so many times — but we got to address this immediately.”
The World Bank’s efforts in Lebanon currently target the health sector and its response to the pandemic, education, support for small businesses, and an emergency social program that provides monthly cash transfers in dollars for extremely poor households.


Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears
Updated 17 sec ago

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears
  • Students demand answers after abandoned pets found shot and poisoned on Beirut campus

BEIRUT: Video images showing the remains of stray dogs shot and buried on the state-funded Lebanese University’s Hadath campus in suburban Beirut have highlighted the growing problem of animals abandoned by their owners as the country’s economic crisis worsens.

Up to 50,000 stray dogs are estimated to be roaming the streets of Lebanon, according to welfare activists, with most unneutered and unvaccinated, posing a public health risk as the animals become increasingly aggressive and stocks of vaccines to combat rabies run low.

Images of five dogs found buried on the university campus sparked widespread anger this week after it was revealed the animals were being fed and cared for by students after having been abandoned.

Lebanese University’s 75 hectare campus is unfenced, and houses a large number of faculties as well accommodation for students, deans and visiting professors, and sports and health facilities.

Animal welfare activist Ghina Nahfawi told Arab News that the stray dogs were given names by students and would respond when offered food.

“We noticed one of the dogs became their leader and would tell the rest that it was OK to approach us,” she said.

“Last Friday, we could not find any trace of the dogs. Some were saying that the university administration and security guards wanted to get rid of them.”

Nahfawi said that students’ fears grew after another dog was found alive but in pain with symptoms suggesting it had been poisoned with Lannate, an insecticide that is highly toxic to livestock and wildlife.

“We saw blood and found some dogs that had been shot. We were told others were buried on the campus, but we did not believe it until we came across a foul smell and started digging with our hands, only to discover the bodies of five dogs.”

She said that students were told that other dogs, including pups, had been taken to mountainous areas and left to fend for themselves, and may have been killed by other animals.

Roger Akkawi, vice president of the animal charity Paw, told Arab News that up 50,000 pet dogs in Lebanon have been abandoned by their owners amid the pandemic and the devastating devaluation of the Lebanese pound.

“Most of the dogs left on the street are unneutered and unvaccinated. People think dogs are good hunters, but that’s not true — they depend on humans to survive,” he said.

“What people do not realize is the mating of two dogs may lead to the birth of an additional 400 dogs within two years, and that goes along with diseases resulting from the failure to vaccinate against rabies.”

Akkawi warned that Lebanon is “heading toward a catastrophe” because authorities have ignored the problem.

“People will encounter dogs on their doorsteps; many will die and no one will dare touch the bodies and bury them for fear of disease. Although the rabies vaccine is subsidized by the state, it is not available because suppliers do not care about importing it. The vaccine is only available in small quantities and for emergency cases.”

Amid the social media uproar over the killing of the stray dogs, students demanded an explanation from the university’s administration, calling for those responsible for the “massacre” to be held accountable.

In response, university authorities released a statement expressing regret for “the way in which the issue of stray dogs was addressed on and around the campus.”

The statement added: “A serious investigation has been opened. The administration had reached out to an animal welfare association and the Hadath municipality several times, but no radical solution was reached.”

The administration said that several students had been bitten by two dogs, adding that the strays are a threat to public safety in light of the lack of medicines and vaccines against rabies.

However, Nahfawi said that there is no evidence of students being attacked by dogs at the university. “The campus has been turned into a burial ground for dogs; that’s what really happened. They disregard all laws and accuse us of exaggerating the issue. This is shameful.”

She added: “The municipalities are responsible for addressing such issues, but they do not consider this a priority at the moment. Do they realize that unneutered and unvaccinated dogs pose a threat to people because we lack vaccines against rabies?”

According to Akkawi, the answer is to “trap, neuter and return dogs to nature.”

He said that the charity is training volunteers to handle stray dogs, but lacks funds to buy equipment and vaccines. “Municipal budgets do not take this matter into account, especially during the economic crisis we are experiencing.”

Akkawi said that the government does not consider the issue of stray animals a priority.

“We met the interior minister and warned that imposing lockdowns and keeping people at home during the pandemic would lead to massacres of stray dogs, which depend on restaurant waste to survive. We asked to be allowed out at night after curfew to feed dogs with the food we bought, but our request was rejected.”

Nahfawi said that while some may consider anger over the dog’s deaths as absurd compared with the suffering of people in Lebanon, “society will not become more peaceful and tolerant if it does not learn to properly deal with the most vulnerable beings.”

In August 2017, President Michel Aoun signed animal protection and welfare laws that include rules for treatment of stray dogs by municipalities.

In August 2018, the Ethical Treatment of Animals group won a ruling from the Lebanese judiciary jailing a man for 10 days and fining him $2,650 for mistreating dogs. The ruling was the first of its kind issued by a judicial authority in Lebanon, criminalizing the harming of animals.


As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs
Updated 50 min 5 sec ago

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs

As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs
  • The military has been struggling due to Lebanon’s economic meltdown

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army has ‘redeployed’ soldiers away from several regions, notably Beirut’s southern suburbs, with its command saying in a statement that the redeployment is intended “to reduce the economic burdens on the army.”

The military has been struggling due to Lebanon’s economic meltdown. In his notorious speech in March, Joseph Aoun, commander of the Lebanese Army, said: “Soldiers are struggling like other people; a soldier’s salary has lost its value and soldiers are going hungry like others.”

Aoun, who is currently visiting Turkey, met with his Turkish counterpart and other officials on Friday and requested logistical support, including equipment and machinery.

He will also visit Washington at the end of September to ask for direct American aid and promises of military assistance for the Lebanese army.

In recent months, some soldiers have deserted as the depreciation of the Lebanese pound has seen the relative value of their salaries plummet to the equivalent of $60 per month. Army command claims the number of deserters is “limited.”

Residents of the Lebanese capital’s southern suburbs were surprised when the army withdrew its forces from checkpoints in the area. Soldiers have been deployed there since 2013, when the suburbs were targeted by bombings that were blamed on Daesh, and seen as connected to the war in Syria and Hezbollah’s interference in the interests of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Lebanese army command stressed on Friday that its troops would “continue to set up observation points in all areas, work on patrols, and carry out security missions.”

Meanwhile, dozens of families of victims of the August 2020 explosion in Beirut Port gathered in the capital to protest against the political pressure being placed on Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the blast.

Bitar was recently threatened by Hezbollah and, on Friday, the attorney representing Nohad Machnouk, the former interior minister who is accused in the case, filed a request to dismiss Bitar from the investigation.

If Bitar were to be dismissed from the case, he would be the second judge to have been removed from the investigation. Like his predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, Bitar has issued a subpoena for a former prime minister, ministers and security officials in connection with the explosion..

Machnouk visited Dar Al-Fatwa — Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority — and gave a speech there in which he claimed that Bitar “takes his orders from” Salim Jreissati, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement led by Gebran Bassil and an advisor to Lebanese President Michael Aoun, Bassil’s father-in-law.

Machnouk warned against summoning former Prime Minister Hassan Diab — also accused in the case — based on a subpoena Bitar issued after Diab failed to show up for questioning. He said Bitar is implementing “a political agenda, away from the constitution, law and logic.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has also previously accused Bitar of being “politicized.”

Former minister Youssef Fenianos — another accused in the case — has requested that the file be transferred from Bitar to another judge.

The campaign against Bitar intensified on Friday. Jaafarite Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan said in his Friday sermon: “It is not allowed to play with fire. What happened in the investigation … increases strong doubts about fabrication as well as (demands for) the dismissal of Judge Bitar, as the country is teeming with corruption.”

After his meeting with the president on Friday, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi said: “Sects should not deal with justice; we are a country that separates between religion and state.”


Abbas tells UN Israeli actions could lead to ‘one state’

Abbas tells UN Israeli actions could lead to ‘one state’
Updated 24 September 2021

Abbas tells UN Israeli actions could lead to ‘one state’

Abbas tells UN Israeli actions could lead to ‘one state’
  • Abbas said Israel was “destroying the prospect of a political settlement based on the two-state solution” through its settlements on West Bank land
  • Most countries view the settlements as illegal, a position Israel disputes

RAMALLAH: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel on Friday of destroying the two-state solution with actions he said could lead Palestinians to demand equal rights within one binational state comprising Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Addressing the UN General Assembly via video link from the West Bank, Abbas, 85, urged the international community to act to save the two-state formula that for decades has been the bedrock of diplomacy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Abbas said Israel was “destroying the prospect of a political settlement based on the two-state solution” through its settlements on West Bank land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Most countries view the settlements as illegal, a position Israel disputes.
“If the Israeli occupation authorities continue to entrench the reality of one apartheid state as is happening today, our Palestinian people and the entire world will not tolerate such a situation,” Abbas said. Israel rejects accusations of apartheid.
“Circumstances on the ground will inevitably impose equal and full political rights for all on the land of historical Palestine, within one state. In all cases, Israel has to choose,” Abbas said from Ramallah, the seat of his Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank.
There was no immediate Israeli comment on Abbas’ remarks.
Critics say internal Palestinian divisions have also contributed to the deadlock in US-sponsored peace talks, which collapsed in 2014.
Under interim peace accords with Israel, Abbas’ PA was meant to exercise control in Gaza as well. But his Islamist rivals Hamas seized the coastal enclave in 2007 and years of on-and-off talks have failed to break their impasse.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a far-rightist who sits atop a cross-partisan coalition, opposes Palestinian statehood. His government has vowed to avoid sensitive choices toward the Palestinians and instead focus on economic issues.
In his UN address, Abbas threatened to rescind the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel if it does not withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem within a year.
“If this is not achieved, why maintain recognition of Israel based on the 1967 borders? Why maintain this recognition?” Abbas said.
While some Palestinians and Israelis support the idea of a single binational state, most have very different ideas of what that entity would look like and how it would be governed.
Most analysts contend a single state would not be viable, for religious, political and demographic reasons. Israeli governments have viewed a one-state concept as undermining the essence of an independent Jewish state.
US President Joe Biden reiterated his support for the two-state solution during his own UN address on Tuesday, saying it would ensure “Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state.”


US envoy to travel to Sudan next week after attempted coup

US envoy to travel to Sudan next week after attempted coup
Updated 24 September 2021

US envoy to travel to Sudan next week after attempted coup

US envoy to travel to Sudan next week after attempted coup
  • Sudanese authorities said they had foiled an attempted coup on Tuesday
  • The US State Department later condemned the coup and reiterated support for the transitional government

WASHINGTON: US envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman will visit Sudan next week to reaffirm American support for the country’s government days after Sudanese authorities said they had thwarted an attempted coup, the White House said Friday.
In a phone call with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, national security adviser Jake Sullivan “expressed the Biden administration’s commitment to support the civilian-led transition to democracy in Sudan and oppose any attempts to derail or disrupt the will of the Sudanese people,” the White House National Security Council said in a statement.
Sudanese authorities said they had foiled an attempted coup on Tuesday, accusing plotters loyal to ousted President Omar Al-Bashir of a failed bid to derail the revolution that removed him from power in 2019 and ushered in a transition to democracy.
The US State Department later condemned the coup and, along with the United Nations Security Council, reiterated support for the transitional government.
Sullivan on Friday also “underscored that any attempt by military actors to undermine the spirit and agreed benchmarks of Sudan’s constitutional declaration would have significant consequences for the US-Sudan bilateral relationship and planned assistance.”
The thwarted coup points to the difficult path facing Sudan under a fragile power-sharing deal between the military and civilians since the overthrow of Bashir, who presided over Sudan for nearly three decades and was shunned by the West.
Sudan’s current ruling body, known as the Sovereign Council, has won Western debt relief and taken steps to normalize ties with Israel, while battling a severe economic crisis. Elections are expected in 2024.


UN updates named death toll for Syria war

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 24 September 2021

UN updates named death toll for Syria war

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria January 6, 2018. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • OHCHR included only fatalities identifiable by a full name, with a place of death and an established date, from March 2011 to March 2021

GENEVA: The war in Syria has killed 350,209 fully identified individuals, according to a new count published Friday by the United Nations, which warned the real total of deaths would be far higher.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) included only fatalities identifiable by a full name, with a place of death and an established date, from March 2011 to March 2021.

“We assess this figure of 350,209 as statistically sound, based as it is on rigorous work,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council.

“It is not — and should not be seen as — a complete number of conflict-related killings in Syria during this period.

“It indicates a minimum verifiable number, and is certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the benchmark for counting victims of the conflict, published a report on June 1 raising the death toll to 494,438 since the start of the violent crackdown on anti-regime protests in 2011.

The Observatory revised up by 105,000 its previous death toll from March 2021, following months of investigation based on documents and sources on the ground.

UN rights chief Bachelet said more than one in 13 victims on the OHCHR count was a woman — 27,727 — while almost one in every 13 was a child — 27,126.

She said the greatest number of documented fatalities was in the Aleppo governorate, with 51,731 named individuals killed.

Other locations with heavy death tolls were Rural Damascus (47,483), Homs (40,986), Idlib (33,271), Hama (31,993) and Tartus (31,369).

Bachelet said OHCHR had received records with partial information which could not go into the analysis but nonetheless indicated a wider number of killings that were not yet fully documented.

“Tragically, there are also many other victims who left behind no witnesses or documentation,” she said.

OHCHR has begun processing information on those alleged to have caused a number of deaths, together with the civilian and non-civilian status of victims, and the cause of death by types of weaponry.

“Documenting the identity of and circumstances in which people have died is key to the effective realisation of a range of fundamental human rights — to know the truth, to seek accountability, and to pursue effective remedies,” said Bachelet.

The former Chilean president said the Syrian people's daily lives "remain scarred by unimaginable suffering... and there is still no end to the violence they endure.”

Bachelet said the count would ensure those killed were not forgotten.

“Behind each recorded death was a human being, born free and equal, in dignity and rights,” she said.