Saturday, September 02, 2006

Lebanese politics impacts humanitarian aid

Lebanese Politics impacts humanitarian aid

By Ghassan Rubeiz -- The Arab American News:

In Lebanon, the ceasefire is holding, the majority of the displaced population has returned and the emergency needs are being met efficiently. Lebanon has not turned into the humanitarian disaster some feared it would become.

But the recovery will take months or years. The U.N. estimates Lebanon's economic war loss at 15 billion dollars. Refugees International estimates that 70 percent of the displaced are out of jobs. Of the million displaced, 250,000 remain away from their homes due to destruction or fear of the future. Unexploded mines are now major causes of death and impediments to farming. The oil spill on the sea shore will be a long lasting environmental disaster. Lebanon's projected economic growth will rapidly decline from six percent in 2006 to zero percent in 2007.
Serious political hurdles between Lebanon and its neighbors remain unsolved, problems that have direct impact on aid. Israel is slowing the process of Lebanese recovery by its air and sea blockade. Syria is threatening to close its borders with Lebanon if international forces are deployed on its frontiers.

There are funding issues. Iran and oil-rich Arab countries are starting to pour money into Lebanon without sufficient attention to the absorbing capacity of social services. The U.S. has pledged 230 million dollars for Lebanon's emergency but the Congress is debating how to politically condition assistance. Tom Lantos, a key Washington legislator, is trying his best to block U.S. aid to Lebanon until UNIFIL troops are deployed on Syrian borders.
In Europe foreign aid is less tied to politics than it is in the U.S. Sixty international agencies will attend the Stockholm donor agency meeting on August 31, where 500 million dollars in pledges are expected. A second meeting will take place in Beirut for further funding at a later stage.
Aid can help or hurt. As an international aid specialist, I humbly suggest the following observations for aid to Lebanon:

First, address the misery belt of Beirut. The massive destruction of South Beirut deserves innovative planning. With money available for large scale reconstruction, the urge to replace poor neighborhoods with cheap reconstruction is great. Ponder that the people of South Beirut have been displaced from South Lebanon as a result of repeated cycles of Israeli incursions and invasions over the last thirty years. It is reasonable to raise the question of reintegrating the many times displaced South Beirut residents to their communities of origin in South Lebanon. A comprehensive community development program in the South should provide adequate and planned housing, resourced neighborhoods, modern farming facilities, small rural industry, eco tourism, work opportunities, job-related education and social and health services. A community empowerment program in the South may attract thousands of South Beirut residents. However, many may choose to remain in Beirut suburbs holding on to their jobs and social setting. In South Beirut, housing, jobs and services should also be improved significantly to reduce youth alienation and help integrate the community in the capital city.

Secondly, focus on family and community-based services. Social services to the disadvantaged should be community-based. There are many sick and injured, many orphans and out-of-school children, people with disabilities, broken families, angry youth and unemployed adults. Will these victims receive care in a family and community context? For example, the temptation to place children of poor or broken families in orphanages is compelling. It is not uncommon in Lebanon to place poor children (euphemistically called social orphans) in crowded sectarian residential institutions that have minimum sensitivity to the rights of children. These dependent children should be helped to live in their own families, with relatives or in other family substitute environments. Lebanon, regrettably, has one of the highest numbers of orphanages in the world, largely due to a misguided public welfare policy.

Thirdly, aid should be viewed within the context of reconciliation and cultural exchange
What goals foreign policy makers could not accomplish through war they should not pursue in foreign aid. Winning the hearts and minds of the Lebanese can only occur through creative engagement of aid agencies with local Lebanese partners.
Sound foreign aid offers opportunity for learning about the adversary, for healing wounds, correcting misunderstanding, building cultural bridges and dispensing with unworkable preconceived ideas. The growing enrollments at foreign universities in Lebanon, of which the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University and the Ste. Joseph University are a few examples, illustrate the positive multiplier effect of sound foreign aid.
Fourthly, there must be a coordinated and transparent state plan.

The government of Lebanon should establish a national plan for emergency, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development. While the management of the humanitarian crisis provides an opportunity to enhance the sovereignty of the Lebanese state, corruption in public service poses a real challenge. Nevertheless, the Lebanese state should lead recovery, set up policies and decide priorities. The state should also define objectives, describe the program, support partnerships and encourage agencies who intend to build long term relations with the people of Lebanon. There is a way to limit corruption. Allowing private local and international agencies to participate collectively in planning, implementing and evaluation of the recovery program should enhance and validate the government leadership. Setting an interagency council for Lebanon recovery would help team work and transparency.

Next, listen to the local people. Effective agents of social change are expected to work with local leaders. Lebanon is rich with indigenous experience and human resources for reconstruction. International agencies tend to overuse foreign experts and to offer them superior authority over local specialists. Regional consultants with minimum on-the-ground experience in the Middle East or with little cultural understanding should not be in leadership roles in Lebanon. International agencies with religious affiliations must be extremely cautious that their administration of aid is free of evangelism, politics or cultural indoctrination.

International peace keeping forces could also be used in rebuilding. As the French president observed, the anticipated 15,000 international peace keeping body may be too large of a military force. There will also be 15,000 Lebanese soldiers in the same area to establish border security. Organizers of the international peace force should consider using a segment of the deployed troops in the humanitarian recovery program. Border deployed soldiers would implement what civil authorities plan for activities such as road building, bridge construction, agricultural extension work, vocational training and housing repair. Military personnel should not lead the aid campaign but it can support it. The ethics of selective use of the military in social work has been debated internationally, and as a result, there are helpful guides for civilian practice that can be followed.

Here is a final word. While the world's compassion index for Lebanon is high, the country's future remains in critical condition. Sound application of humanitarian work will not only help the Lebanese. This small and fragile country has always been a regional and international laboratory of social change. Lebanon's recovery process is an international experiment harmonizing politics and human development.
The author is an Arab American commentator. His new blog is His email is


Anonymous sakura saunders said...

Outside of Tom Lantos' call for UNIFIL troops on the Syrian Border, what conditions specifically have been put on Lebanese aid from the U.S.

(please respond, thank you)

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