Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable

Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable
A man drags a suitcase as he walks along a road blocked with burning tires during a protest on the back of the continuing deterioration of living conditions, in Beirut. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 December 2021

Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable

Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable
  • Beneficiaries will be selected according to transparent criteria ‘to secure the basic requirements for a decent life’

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced on Wednesday the launch of the ration card platform and the emergency social safety net project.
Funded and supported by the World Bank and the UN, the programs are intended to help the most vulnerable in Lebanon.
The ration card platform had faltered after it was announced by Hassan Diab’s resigned government on Sept. 9 due to funding issues and objections by the World Bank.
The platform was supposed to be up before subsidies on fuel were lifted to limit protests.
In his announcement, Mikati addressed the obstruction of Cabinet sessions since Oct. 12: “If some people have the right to revolt in the street and get angry, then those who were and still are in power have no right to shirk responsibility and blame those who are currently trying to fight to save the country.”
He noted that during the diplomatic meetings he held in the country and overseas, one expression was constantly repeated: “Help yourselves, and we will help you.” If anything, this indicates the extent of the responsibility of all Lebanese officials and leaders to cooperate for Lebanon to move forward, he explained.
Mikati noted: “The beneficiaries of the two projects will be selected according to transparent criteria to secure the basic requirements for a decent life. The two-month registration phase will be closely monitored to prevent any exploitation, after which the payment process will begin early next year with a retroactive effect from January 2022.”

FASTFACT

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, 25 percent of Lebanese suffer from extreme poverty, while 70 percent are struggling to make ends meet, with the middle class almost becoming extinct amid Lebanon’s economic and financial collapse.

The ministry is currently assisting 36,000 families suffering from extreme poverty by giving them a $25 food card and a further $15 for each family member. The children of these families are enrolled in public schools and receive free primary healthcare, thanks to EU funding. The ministry aims to start supporting 75,000 families.
“In the first phase, we will start implementing the social safety net program, which covers 150,000 Lebanese families and 87,000 children enrolled in public schools,” said Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar.
He added: “These programs are not the solution; they are rather temporary support to help citizens survive until economic recovery is initiated.”
Mikati said that he had issued a decision “to form a technical committee to review the security and cyber aspects of the IMPACT platform and its subsidiary webpages, headed by the minister of interior, to prevent any data manipulation and ensure user privacy.”
Hajjar expected around 20,000 people to register on the platform daily.
More families are falling under the poverty line in Lebanon, a World Bank report revealed.
The share of the Lebanese population under the international poverty line is estimated to have risen by 13 percentage points in 2020 and is expected to further increase by as much as 28 percentage points by the end of 2021; amounting to 1.5 million Lebanese.
Meanwhile, 780,000 Syrian refugees are under the poverty line, and their share is estimated to have risen by 39 percentage points in 2020 and 52 percentage points in 2021.
The report also tackled the successive financial crises that have afflicted Lebanon, noting that “the Lebanese government’s hands are tied in terms of providing social assistance to citizens and residents alike.”
International institutions fear further repercussions as Lebanon is being assailed by compounded crises for the third year in a row, which may lead to widespread chaos and disturb the fragile security stability, especially in light of the significant rise in the prices of goods, fuel, transportation, medicine, electricity from generators, and other daily life necessities.
“Radical reforms are essential to achieve recovery and social protection programs are very helpful in mitigating the impact of multiple crises,” the World Bank said.


Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination
Updated 56 min 33 sec ago

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination
  • Hospitals preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a months-long lull
  • More than 88 percent of all of those eligible for vaccines have been fully vaccinated

TEHRAN: As much of the world sees vaccination slowing and infections soaring with the spread of omicron, Iran has found a rare, if fleeting, respite from the anxiety and trauma of the pandemic.
After successive virus waves pummeled the country for nearly two years, belated mass vaccination under a new, hard-line president has, for a brief moment, left the stricken nation with a feeling of apparent safety.
Now, the specter of an omicron-fueled surge looms large. Hospitals are preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a months-long lull. But so far, the variant has not battered the Islamic Republic as it has many Western countries where most adults got jabs a year ago.
Drastic infection surges among the inoculated from the United States to Russia have revealed the vaccine’s declining defenses against infection even as its protection against hospitalization and death remains strong. Meanwhile, Iranians have received doses more recently and are feeling off the hook with their immunity still robust.
“A large number of people already have contracted the virus and huge vaccination has taken place in recent months,” health official Moayed Alavian said in an attempt to explain the sharp drop in infections easing the burden on Iran’s overwhelmed health system.
The virus has killed over 132,000 people by Iran’s official count — the highest national toll in the Middle East.
Iran’s recently elected president, conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, has made it a mission to expedite imports of foreign-made COVID-19 vaccines. With hard-liners in control of all branches of government, the new administration is fast fulfilling a task that had been vexed by power struggles during former President Hassan Rouhani’s term.
The contrast is not lost on ordinary Iranians.
“I do not know what happened,” said Reza Ghasemi, a Tehran taxi driver. “Suddenly vaccination happened in a widespread and quick way after Raisi came to office.”
“By the way,” he added, “I am thankful.”
But skeptics question the presidents’ starkly different pandemic responses, criticizing the human cost of the country’s factional rivalries.
“We delayed vaccination because of political issues,” reformist lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian bluntly said last September.
Now under Raisi, Iran is riding high on its successes against COVID-19. Cases have fallen to about 7,000 a day from some 40,000 just months before. The death toll plummeted to 20 a day this month from peaks of over 700. His administration has provided 180 million vaccines since taking the reins in August.
More than 88 percent of all of those eligible for vaccines have been fully vaccinated. Iran has administered booster shoots to 20 percent of its population. Last week the government announced it would make vaccines available to children under 18.


UAE, Egypt and Bahrain leaders’ summit discusses regional issues

UAE, Egypt and Bahrain leaders’ summit discusses regional issues
Updated 27 January 2022

UAE, Egypt and Bahrain leaders’ summit discusses regional issues

UAE, Egypt and Bahrain leaders’ summit discusses regional issues
  • The four leaders talked about the recent terrorist attacks against civilian sites and facilities in the UAE

DUBAI: Leaders from the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain on Wednesday held a summit to discuss current regional issues and how they could strengthen coordination and cooperation among their countries.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai; Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi; King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President of Egypt, met in Abu Dhabi “over issues of common concern in addition to the latest regional and international developments and the common challenges facing the Arab region,” state news agency WAM reported.

The four leaders talked about the recent terrorist attacks against civilian sites and facilities in the UAE, including the thwarted launch of two ballistic missiles against the Emirates.

The continuing terror activities of the Houthis pose a serious threat to regional and international security and stability and violate all international laws and norms, the WAM report added.

The leaders renewed their call for the international community to take a firm stand against the militia and other terrorist forces along, with their supporters.

The King of Bahrain and Egyptian president re-affirmed their countries’ solidarity and support with the UAE’s steps in ensuring the country’s security and safety.


Sudanese rally against UN bid to resolve crisis

Sudanese rally against UN bid to resolve crisis
Updated 26 January 2022

Sudanese rally against UN bid to resolve crisis

Sudanese rally against UN bid to resolve crisis
  • An 18-year-old protester died on Wednesday after suffering a bullet wound to the head during protests last month

KHARTOUM: Thousands of Sudanese pro-military protesters rallied on Wednesday against a UN bid to resolve a political crisis in the country three months after a coup.

The demonstrators gathered outside the Khartoum office of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS, which launched talks with Sudanese factions this month.

They held up banners that read, “Down, down UN,” and others that urged UN special representative Volker Perthes to “Go back home.”

“We don’t want external intervention in our country,” protester Hamed Al-Bashir said.

On Jan. 10, Perthes said the consultations aimed “to support the Sudanese to reach an agreement on a way out of the current crisis.” But he added that “the UN is not coming up with any project, draft or vision for a solution.”

On Wednesday, UNITAMS said protesters had gathered outside the mission’s office demanding to expel the mission.

“We defend freedom of assembly & expression and offered to receive a delegation in our premises which they refused,” it said on Twitter.

Sudan has been rocked by a deadly crackdown against protests calling for civilian rule since an October 25 military coup led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

The country’s latest military takeover derailed a power-sharing transition between the army and civilians that had been painstakingly negotiated after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar  Bashir.

The ruling Sovereign Council — formed by Al-Burhan after the coup with himself as chairman — has welcomed the UN-led dialogue, as have the US, Britain, neighboring Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The Forces for Freedom and Change, Sudan’s main civilian bloc, has also said it would join consultations “to restore the democratic transition.”

In a Wednesday press conference, FFC leader Omar Al-Degeir called on the international community to stand by “the Sudanese people to achieve its demands to reverse the coup.”

Stephanie Khoury, UNITAMS director of political affairs, said earlier: “Our role at this stage of consultations for a political process for #Sudan is to hear Sudanese stakeholders; ensure we actively listen to their views, document their visions & suggestions.”

An 18-year-old protester died on Wednesday after suffering a bullet wound to the head during protests last month, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.

His death brought the number of people killed in the crackdown on anti-coup demonstrations to 77, including others who were also shot in the head, it said.


UK hosts Quint meeting on Yemen, condemns Houthi attacks

UK hosts Quint meeting on Yemen, condemns Houthi attacks
Updated 27 January 2022

UK hosts Quint meeting on Yemen, condemns Houthi attacks

UK hosts Quint meeting on Yemen, condemns Houthi attacks
  • The joint statement expressed full support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their legitimate national security concern
  • The Quint called for urgent and comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni conflict

LONDON: Senior representatives of the governments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, the UK, and the US, along with UN special envoy, Hans Grundberg, met in London on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Yemen.
“The Quint strongly condemned the Houthis’ repeated attacks against civilians within Yemen, including US local staff in Sanaa, and their continued heinous terrorist attacks against Saudi Arabia and more recently the UAE,” they said in a joint statement.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia have stepped up cross-border attacks against populated areas in Saudi Arabia and have attempted to strike the UAE capital twice in the last two weeks. The Houthis have also continued their brutal offensive on the Yemeni province of Marib, which has served as a safe haven for millions of internally displaced persons who have been fleeing the fighting since the conflict began in 2014.

The Quint said “such actions are obstructing peace efforts and exacerbating suffering,” and stressed that “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security,” and the need to hold perpetrators accountable and brought to justice.
The joint statement expressed full support for Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and their legitimate national security concerns and called for an immediate end to attacks by the Iran-backed militia.
“The Quint acknowledged the legitimate right of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to defend themselves against terrorist attacks in accordance with international (and) humanitarian law, including taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian harm,” it said.
The meeting also condemned the Houthis’ seizure of the UAE flagged Rwabee vessel off the coast of Yemen, and called for the need to find an urgent solution to the abandoned SAFER tanker, urging the Houthis to allow UN access to the vessel.
They said these highlight the Houthis’ significant risk to the maritime security of vessels in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.
“The Quint discussed the illicit Iranian provision of missiles and advanced weaponry to the Houthis in violation” of UN Security Council resolutions, the statement added.
The Quint called for urgent and comprehensive political solution to the conflict and re-affirmed their support for the UN special envoy’s efforts.
It also called for additional economic support from the international community to stabilize Yemen’s economy, coupled with essential reforms to improve financial transparency.
They agreed to meet on a regular basis to coordinate a response to the Yemen crisis and support the UN envoy.


Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge

Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge
Updated 27 January 2022

Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge

Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge

ALGIERS: Algeria’s health minister on Tuesday urged people to get vaccinated and save hospitals from collapse as the North African nation faces a surge of COVID-19 infections.

Algeria is battling infections from both the delta variant and the highly contagious omicron variant, which now accounts for 60 percent of COVID-19 infections.

On Monday, health officials reported a daily record of 2,215 cases and 13 deaths.

“I urge you to get vaccinated and break the chain of infections which risk bringing our health institutions to their knees,” Health Minister Abderahmane Benbouzid said at a media conference in the capital, Algiers. “For now, the hospitals’ staff are managing. The question is, how long can they hold on?”

Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, according to studies. omicron spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

The inoculation rate in Algeria remains low. Less than a quarter of the population has had even one vaccine dose despite the government’s robust vaccination campaign in state media and on social networks that includes pro-vaccine posts from famous Algerian actors, singers, athletes and influencers.

Algeria has a stock of vaccines that can largely ensure coverage of vaccination needs for two years, the minister said. Overall, only 13 percent of Algeria’s 45 million inhabitants, have been inoculated, the minister said. Of eligible adults, only 29 percent have received two vaccine doses, he said.

In December, Algeria started requiring a vaccine passport to enter many public venues, seeking to overcome vaccine hesitancy that has left millions of vaccines unused.

The pass is also required for anyone entering or leaving Algeria, as well as for entering sports facilities, cinemas, theaters, museums, town halls and other sites like hammams — bath houses that are popular across the region.

Official figures show Algeria has seen 6,508 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began, but even members of the government’s scientific committee admit the real figure is much higher. Out of fears of being blamed for getting the virus, some Algerians keep their infections secret, which then puts others at risk.