French-led donor conference nets € 253 million in pledges to Lebanon following port explosion

PARIS / BEIRUT — An emergency donor conference was held on Sunday to support Lebanon after a massive explosion at Beirut’s port, killing at least 175 people, injuring over 6,000 others, and causing billions of euros in damage.

The conference elicited € 253 million ($ 298 million) in pledges from governments around the world for immediate relief assistance which will not be conditioned by political or institutional reforms. Some donors have pledged more relief money in the long-term if Lebanese authorities implement reforms. The French alone pledge € 30 million ($ 35 million).

The conference’s final statement said that assistance must be swift, adequate, and proportionate to the needs of the Lebanese people, and should be delivered directly to the Lebanese people, with the highest efficiency and transparency.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Beirut on Thursday, hosted the conference via video link and urged participating countries to put aside their differences and support the Lebanese people.

Macron also included an offer to assist in supporting a credible independent investigation into the cause of the explosion.

The White House announced that U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed his country’s readiness to continue providing assistance to the Lebanese people. He said the United States would send additional aircraft loaded with medical supplies, food, and water and would provide Lebanon with substantial financial assistance but declined to provide figures.

While the needs of the country are huge in the wake of the explosion, questions remained about the best way to ensure that any money donated to aid and reconstruction doesn’t become ensnared by the same networks of corruption that have landed the small country of under 7 million with nearly € 100 billion in debt despite poor infrastructure and public services.

Head of the International Monetary Fund Kristalina Georgieva has called for the Lebanese government to all for an audit of the national bank before reconstruction funding is delivered.

“Current and future generations of Lebanese must not be saddled with more debts than they can ever repay,” said Georgieva during the donor conference. “Commitment to these reforms will unlock billions of dollars for the benefit of the Lebanese people.”

One possible solution, suggested head of the Lebanon Transparency Association Julien Courson, would be the establishment of an online clearinghouse for reconstruction contracts. Such a clearinghouse would help ensure transparency and help prevent corruption.

Christiaan Poortman, board chairman of Infrastructure Transparency Initiative, said that the first project should have widespread benefits and be highly visible to avoid politicization of reconstruction and aid projects.

“That will help keeping some of the political stuff at a distance,” Poortman said. “Donors will have to be on top of this. The issue of procurement is always where lots of corruption takes place … it needs to be done quickly, and there is always the temptation to not follow the rules and go ahead and do something where a lot of people are going to make a lot of money.”

Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal St. Bechara Boutros al-Ra’i, addressed the Lebanese situation during his sermon at Sunday Mass at the Church of Al-Diman:

“Change, no matter how deep, must be based on our democratic system, our constitution, our national charter, and the historical Lebanese constants.

The angry popular movements we have witnessed underscore the impatience of the oppressed and humiliated Lebanese people and demonstrate the determination to change for the better. It is not enough for the resignation of a deputy from here and a minister from there, but the entire government must resign as it is unable to advance the country, and early parliamentary elections must be held instead of a council that is out of work.”