Feds say aid to Lebanon will be 'long-term,' citing need for 'political and economic reforms'
OTTAWA -- The federal government says beyond an emergency response following Tuesday’s deadly blast in Beirut, it is committed to providing "long-term" aid to Lebanon as it continues to grapple with economic and health crises.
International Development Minister Karina Gould provided more details about how Canada’s $5-million aid package would be distributed, including $1.5 million being sent immediately to the Lebanese Red Cross and "other trusted humanitarian organizations."
"Right now, the priority is to save lives. We know that in the next 48 hours this is the utmost concern," she said. "Our assistance will go towards providing emergency shelter, food and water assistance as well as medicine and medical care."
On Tuesday, a deadly blast ripped through Lebanon’s capital Beirut killing at least 135 and wounding about 5,000. Local authorities are now investigating how 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were left at the Port of Beirut for six years without proper safety precautions.
The minister reflected on the country’s deepening financial crisis, now made worse by the tragic events of the week. In March, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the country would default on its debt.
"Canada is always willing to have conversations whether it’s with the G7 or the G20 or the multilateral development banks to see what we can do to assist Lebanon, however we feel very strongly that there needs to be significant political and economic reforms within the country to make sure that assistance would be most effective," Gould said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed Gould’s remarks on Wednesday.
"To the people of Lebanon, Lebanese Canadians, and all those who watched the explosion in shock and horror, worrying about their loved ones and friends: we will always support the people of Lebanon as you work to heal and rebuild your beautiful city," Trudeau said in a press release on Wednesday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne also shared his sympathies in a statement the same day.
"Canada stands with the people of Lebanon in this tragedy and we are ready to assist however we can, as I have articulated in my two recent conversations with my Lebanese counterpart. This initial contribution will help meet the immediate, most urgent needs of those devastated by this explosion."
Lebanon is observing three days of mourning as international aid flights touch down and those on the ground continue to sift through what remains.
Gould said the government is also prioritizing the needs of Canadians currently in the city, flagging that the Canadian embassy will start seeing clients on Monday, August 10.
"Thankfully, our embassy came out relatively unscathed and as far as I know our personnel are okay."
She added that while the government is in contact with its Lebanese counterparts, no direct aid would be sent through that avenue at this time.
"In this specific case, Canada is only working with non-government organizations. We are in contact with the Lebanese government, but at this time, no direct aid is planned from Ottawa to the Lebanese government," she said speaking in French.
REACTION ON THE GROUND
This is welcome news for Sarah Himadeh, a Lebanese-Canadian actress whose apartment was destroyed during the blast and who is pleading for foreign leaders to bypass the Lebanese government because of the country’s history of political corruption.
"[It’s] a government that isn’t able to provide its people the bare minimum. We don’t even have electricity – we are powering our electricity through generators," Himadeh told CTVNews.ca. "Our traffic lights are no longer functioning so you can imagine the mess at each intersection."
She said clean-up efforts are being led by the community.
"We’re currently on the streets cleaning up the shattered glass, cleaning up the rubble of the blast. Where is the government? Where is the president?"
Himadeh’s brother sustained several injuries from the explosion while standing on his floor-to-ceiling glass balcony, which shattered on impact. He’s currently recovering.
She said she’s lost all expectation that political authorities in the country will step up and assist during this time and is pleased to see countries, including France and Australia, offer their support to local NGOs.
"The amount of greed and theft that has taken place from our government is just unimaginable,” Himadeh said. "We just want them to step down."
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the city on Thursday and was met by residents yelling "please do not give any funds to our corrupted government," to which he responded "No, no we won’t. Don’t you worry."
Macron also committed to organize an international fundraising conference with European, American and Middle Eastern contributors.