Tags Posts tagged with "aid"

aid

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Lebanon’s banks, awash with billions in deposits, may be able to help employ the refugees. Photo: The Daily Star

 

Today I spoke to the BBC World Service about the worsening refugee crisis in Lebanon and the government’s controversial decision to begin strictly limiting the thousands of souls pouring over the country’s borders everyday. (You can listen here) Many have found the move to be inhumane, but at the same time, no country has received anywhere near as many Syrian refugees as Lebanon– which at 1.6 million Syrians in a country of 4 million– is nearing a 50 percent population influx and the highest refugee per capita ratio in the world. The country’s broken institutions, still reeling from its own civil war, simply lack the capacity to handle the crisis and I’m surprised they have not collapsed already. Can you imagine if the US received over 100 million refugees?

Last year I wrote a piece documenting the minuscule amount of aid Lebanon’s institutions have received from the international community to cope what the World Bank has called the greatest refugee crisis in humanity. More recently it was reported that the government received $10 million, which is not even 1 percent of its $1.6 billion aid appeal. Compared to Lebanon, Europe and the US have accepted less than 1 percent of the refugees Lebanon has housed, and this has put a massive strain on hospitals, schools and public utilities.

But despite all this, the BBC anchor asked me if there was anything more Lebanon could do, other than wait for aid money. I remembered that I had put the same question to Ramzi Naaman, the head of Lebanon’s anti-poverty unit, in writing my investigative piece last year. He had an interesting suggestion. He began by saying the aid money going toward refugees has caused some tension with poor Lebanese communities who realized they were getting less help from their government than the UN is providing to refugees. His solution: Get big Lebanese banks, with over $100 billion in deposits, to begin building much-needed national infrastructure projects that could employ both poor Syrians and Lebanese, and perhaps help build some sense of national unity despite the crisis. I wonder what some of you think? I will republish the excerpt from the piece here:

 

“The people of Akkar may have thought living in extreme poverty was a way of life, but then the Syrians came in and were being assisted immediately with cash, food, shelter and healthcare. And then a person in Akkar may be thinking ’my government was not giving me the right things.’ And when the crisis is over and Syrians are out, he may say, ’I want water, I want health care, I want services, I want infrastructure. I want to change the way I live.’ 
“So this crisis has not only impacted us in terms of pressures, it has also somehow helped emerge a lot of our problems that have historically existed,” Naaman says. 

Instead of just waiting for money from foreign donors, there may also an opportunity for the private sector to get involved. Lebanese companies could chip in to make job-creating projects happen, particularly the country’s banks, awash with over $120 billion in deposits, or nearly three times Lebanon’s GDP. With the right political leadership, such projects could be tax deductible and provide work for both Syrians and Lebanese, which could help defuse tensions, Naaman said. 

“Everyone keeps bragging about their corporate social responsibility,” he says. “So let’s say to every bank, okay we need to put $100,000 in that pot or maybe $200,000 to create a fund to help the Lebanese host communities, to develop a project in those communities.” 

The projects could be used to help promote banks, and, with enough media exposure, initial donations could encourage other banks and corporations to match their competitors, he said. 

“You want to contribute to the development and stability of your country, this is it,” Naaman says. “Take the initiative and use the media.” 

The effect could turn a crisis into an opportunity for long-term development and national reconciliation, Naaman explains. 

“You give an example of solidarity among the Lebanese,” he says. “The only way to overcome confessionalism is to to open up, so how about setting up this humanitarian issue, that would set an example. Social solidarity is the foundation of a nationalistic attitude, belonging to a country, not a sect.”

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Ministry_Finance_Economy_pic_1
Ministry of Finance. Photo: Al Akhbar

 

How hard is it to get information from the Lebanese government? The answer may surprise you. I discuss my adventure with the finance ministry in my recent column for Bold Magazine

 

Lebanon By The Numbers

By Habib Battah

It seemed a straightforward question: How much money has the Lebanese government received in Syria-related aid donations? But when I asked the Prime Minister’s advisor at his lavish office in the Grand Serail, he lifted his hands. “It’s a very small number. It’s nothing. I don’t have it,” he said, looking at me as if the matter was inconsequential.

At the time, the Lebanese government had been on a world tour to lobby for funds to cope with the world’s largest refugee crisis, arguing that it had received a pittance in aid money. I was writing a piece about it and thought, in order to make that argument effectively, wouldn’t it be helpful to specify exactly how much has been given, to underscore the wide gap between that tiny figure and the amount that was actually needed?

I emailed the advisor twice after our interview and he could still not produce an answer, referring me instead to the Finance Ministry. So days later, I put in a call there – well, several calls – until I was told I would need to make an information request. Naturally, the bureaucrat told me requests could only be made in writing, and by this she meant typed and delivered in person, not signed and scanned, not emailed, not faxed, not any means convenient or rational. So half an hour of walking later – thank God I live in Beirut – I arrived at the Finance Ministry with a typed up piece of paper stating my simple one line question, who I was writing for and why I wanted to know.

I approached the office of the “responsible person,” a middle-aged man, who was flanked by two similarly aged women. He smiled wryly at my request. “You were living abroad?” I affirmed, but asked how that was relevant to obtaining the information. “If you can, go back there. Lebanon is like Angola,” he exclaimed with a chuckle. I smiled and asked one of his female co-workers if they had dealt with journalists often. “You are the first one I have seen here,” she said soberly.

Later I visited the office of the bureaucrat I had dealt with over the phone to see if I could hurry matters along as I was on a deadline. She told me the request would take “some time” as it, like all press inquiries, had to be approved by the minister. But surprisingly she said I could have a look at the figure in the meantime, though I could not quote her. She pulled out a spartan spreadsheet of what seemed to be accounts receivable, with only a few entries. She did a few quick calculations, and figured total donations to the state amounted to around $2.8 million, an astoundingly tiny sum, which would amount to less than 0.1 percent of Lebanon’s total aid appeal. Why was this figure so hard to obtain?

I called and emailed the same bureaucrat several times over the following two weeks, but my request was never answered. Eventually I was forced to use the unofficial figure, labeling it as a “government estimate.” A couple of weeks after the piece was published -nearly a month after my initial request was made – I received a phone call from a ministry employee. The figure I had requested was ready, she said nonchalantly. It was close to $2 million or $1million less than the previous figure. But who was counting.

Clearly accuracy or transparency were not a priority among the myriad of officials I had dealt with. This meant I would miss my deadline and that the public would not have access to relevant national data illustrating the daunting challenge the country and its institutions faced.

Yet I was also surprised by the lack of reporters that had requested documents from the Ministry of Finance (perhaps the most important of all ministries), according to the staff I met. The bureaucracy may be stifling but negotiating it is part of what journalism is there for. Who else is going to have time to pace government hallways, make phone calls relentlessly, and ultimately put pressure on authorities?

Sadly, many reporters and activists often assume that if the information is not forthcoming it simply does not exist or, worse still, is not worth pursuing. It is almost as if we are conditioned not to ask, not to bother, to accept evasive answers, sigh and call it a day, so to speak.

But what many may not realize is that non-answers are also a type of answer; that they are also responses worthy of being recorded and disseminated to the public. I have written entire articles based on non-answers, from pollution on Lebanese beaches, to a lack of budget or website for Municipality of Beirut, to top internet officials who refused to discuss their roles in one of the world’s worst connections. In many of these cases, the desire to remain evasive produced flustered, if not comical answers that cast even more doubt on the competency of those in power. “No comment” should send up a red flag for any dedicated journalist: keep digging.

Increasingly, concerned citizens are not waiting for journalists to do their jobs. Every year, new activist groups are born, composed of both young and older individuals willing to sacrifice time and effort to dig through archives, take screenshots from Google Earth, conceal hidden cameras, pore through archaic legal codes to document illegal seizure of public properties, racism at beach resorts, grounds for civil marriage, among many other issues. One group is even now looking into resurrecting a 1920s era law that allows citizens to launch complaints with Parliament, though it has rarely ever been used before.

The internet and social media have helped create momentum like never before, even in a place that seems as feudalistic or complacent as Lebanon’s public sector. As a result, today it is easier for anyone to get involved and to pressure both news outlets and officials to work harder to come up with the answers that citizens deserve.

This column originally appeared in the July issue of Bold Magazine. 

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    The following piece was published in the May issue of Bold Magazine, but both the subject and self-loathing are as relevant today as ever before.  

    The Paralysis Of Self-Loathing


    By Habib Battah           



    T

    his is a horrible place,” a prominent Lebanese activist recently wrote on Facebook. “There are exceptions. But the general rule is this is a horrible place.” 


    The comment came as an introduction to a link the activist shared to a New York Times article that claimed that plastic roof shelters had been banned in Lebanon due to a fear among “The Lebanese” that the refugees would be staying indefinitely. 

    The Times reporter surmised: “The Lebanese view even the most modest shelters with suspicion” and “In the eyes of the Lebanese, the box shelters… could encourage the Syrians to stay.” 

    Indeed, many readers would agree with the activist, asking ’what type of hell is this Lebanon and how wicked are its people if they would like to see homeless refugees suffer?’ Surely the reporter had done some extensive research to come up with such sweeping conclusions. Yet there are only four Lebanese interviewed in the article: two are sheltering Syrian families on their property for free, a third was attempting to install the questionable shelters for a Norwegian aid agency and only one – a government bureaucrat – voiced intense skepticism about the shelters. 

    Even if one is to accept the utter nonsense of stereotyping an entire country based on a handful of interviews, the result of this completely unscientific survey seems to contradict the reporter’s conclusions. Far from rejecting the homeless, three out of four Lebanese respondents were actively building shelters or hosting refugees. In fact according to the UNHCR some 36,000 Syrians are living with Lebanese families (a figure absent from most Western reports) and thousands more are living in unfinished Lebanese homes and buildings with the help of aid agencies. 

    But the Times’ careless journalism does not stop there. The reporter further assumes that the government’s ban on setting up refugee camps for Syrians is simply an obvious reflection of popular will. He writes: “The Lebanese have so far rejected the establishment of any refugee camp…” 

    Yet a nation-wide study released earlier this year by the Norwegian research institute Fafo found that 70% of Lebanese wanted the establishment of refugee camps. This sentiment clearly contradicts the assumption by The Times and several other publications that Lebanese government decisions are based on popular will. The question then becomes: how does the government make such determinations and who exactly in the government is responsible for making them? But few, even in the Lebanese media, have bothered to ask such questions. 

    To be sure, the Fafo survey also found that half of respondents felt threatened by the refugee crisis, particularly the poor, who fear they will lose jobs to the Syrians. But these are not empty suspicions. The World Bank projects that up to 300,000 Lebanese will lose jobs as a result of the influx of cheap Syrian labor by next year, boosting unemployment to 20% and sending over 100,000 Lebanese into poverty. And with up to 3,000 Syrians pouring into Lebanon per day, the refugee numbers are expected to grow to 2 million by 2014, an unprecedented 50% increase in Lebanon’s total population over just three years. The influx has put a huge strain on public institutions: schools and hospitals are over capacity, sanitation and power services are faltering. 

    The World Bank predicts that the crisis will cost Lebanon $7 billion by the end of this year, but the debt-ridden government has received less than 0.01% of its appeal to the international community. Meanwhile North America and Europe have only approved asylum for some 700 Syrians, which is less than 0.06% of the number residing in Lebanon. The Bank has concluded that “no country in history” has had to deal with a crisis on this scale with so little foreign aid. 

    All this is not to say that discrimination toward the refugees does not exist, and there have been a number of violent incidents over recent months, including the torching of a camp site. But Lebanon, which is still reeling from its own civil war, is also divided on the issue of refugees. There is no monolithic “Lebanese view.” For every act of violence, there have also been massive grassroots relief efforts to help the refugees. One Beirut initiative last month saw some 25 trucks of clothing donated in one day. Meanwhile it is Lebanese nationals who form the backbone of relief efforts. Most of the field workers employed by the UN and other non-profit organizations are Lebanese, including those trying to build the semi-permanent structures blocked by their own state. 

    This type of nuanced analysis is of little concern to a foreign correspondent, whose job it is to paint a hurried snapshot of that foreign place he is reporting from to satisfy the passing interest of viewers back home. To portray the Lebanese as a racist people living in a racist place is a visceral, easily digestible narrative and one that editors back home seem to appreciate. 

    At worst, the correspondent’s narrow view of Lebanon evolves into a glib self-righteousness, a sort of scolding of the Lebanese in the form of sarcasm. For example, Time Magazine recently tweeted: “Ikea wants to give Syrian refugees pre-fab housing that Lebanon fears will be too nice.” Similarly, an article appearing in UAE-daily The National, sneered, “Shelters too big a luxury in Lebanon while Syrian refugees freeze.” 

    Of course neither piece reminds its local readers that their own countries (the US and the UAE) have accepted virtually zero Syrian refugees. But more disturbing, neither publication relays a quote to back up its snide headline, which in both cases appears to have simply been invented for sensational purposes. It’s hard to imagine where substituting sarcasm for reporting would be acceptable journalism but the practice has become hugely popular when dealing with Lebanon, a place that is made increasingly too easy to hate, even for locals. 

    Indeed, more worrying than the foreign perceptions from abroad is the pervasive adoption of such stereotypical narratives by Lebanese themselves. How often is it that we hear the phrase “Welcome to Lebanon” used derisively in public discourse? The apathy bred by such statements is deeply damaging. By blaming Lebanese society as a whole for everyday problems, any effort to drive change through accountability is marginalized. Rather than attack specific issues that plague all countries such as racism, xenophobia and corruption, phrases like “this country will never change” and “I can’t wait to get my visa” have become accepted catch-all explanations. They equate to little more than a form of surrender. 

    When the government bans shelters, it is the role of the media to pinpoint accountability by understanding how such an inhumane decision was taken and which officials took it. When we avoid such questions and are satisfied with vague, self-loathing answers like “this country is horrible,” the process of accountability is lost, and those culpable officials remain unnamed and are free to continue ruling with impunity. 

    It is true that Lebanon faces a laundry list of daunting social and political problems. Many of them are rooted in the constant state of conflict and the complete lack of a reconciliation process. The post-war amnesty afforded to criminal militia leaders has perpetuated their corrupt patronage and fear mongering. Still citizens are not helpless. For all those that have surrendered their rights by accepting injustice or leaving the country altogether, there are daily confrontations with authority, from bloggers taking on corporate power to local TV crews naming and shaming officials that have threatened and assaulted them. These efforts are successful when they are focused and targeted. Writing off problems with bitterness and self-deprecating stereotypes only breeds the type of hopelessness that keeps the political class in business. It also denies any serious discussion about the roots of deep-seated and troubling social grievances.

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    That’s Saudia Arabia’s King Abdullah in Hamra traffic tonight. Ever since the monarch pledged $3 billion to arm Lebanon’s military, billboards thanking him have popped up all over Beirut.
    Near the port:
    In Clemenceau:

    And that’s him on the massive electronic billboard up ahead in Karantina, though it didn’t come out very well on my phone camera:

    These ads are also popping up in Nahr El Mawt, Martyr’s Square and all across the downtown area. But that’s just what I noticed during a normal commute so there are probably dozens more across the city and country.

    Now $3 billion is a lot of money and obviously it would be rude not to sound grateful. But who is being thanked here? Clearly the target of these ads is not the King or the Saudi people. By canvasing every nook and cranny of Beirut, the audience is obviously a local one. So is the king being thanked or are the people being told to thank the king? That sounds very Arab spring-like, doesn’t it?

    Finally, the blue strap at the bottom of the ad identifies ex-prime minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, which is closely tied to Saudi Arabia, as the one paying for the ads. So this means the people being asked to thank not only the king, but also his local ally, a local ally at war with other well-armed local parties that get billions from other countries. So effectively what we have is a kind of arms race between foreign states inside Lebanon. Now is that something to be thankful about?

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      It’s that time of year again and the bars and pubs of Mar Mikhael, Gemmayze and Hamra are overflowing with Lebanese home for the holidays. But if you can spare a few hours or a few bucks, why not help those most in need while you are here?

      We all know the government is bankrupt (in more ways than one) and largely overburdened by the massive refugee influx with very little help coming in from Arab or Western countries. The good news is there are some great Lebanese citizen-powered grassroots efforts to help homeless Syrians. And here’s some ways you can help out.

      1.) The “I am not a tourist” initiative mobilized some 25 truckloads of clothing in just one day last weekend.

      Check the group page for upcoming events, as well as that of their partners G Living Green, War Child   and SAWA for Syria.

      2.) Sawa for Syria also organized a great benefit concert last night, with proceeds going toward buying firewood and heaters. They are currently supporting around 10 camps in the Bekaa Valley and always looking for volunteers and donations.

      One act last night was the Lebanese rapper and spoken word artist Ras (left) who joined on stage by Syrian rapper Sayed Darwish (right)

      This wasn’t the poser imitation Hollywood stuff. The lyrics and poetry were witty and raw, an inspiring Lebanese-Syrian collaboration despite all the cross-border tension and discrimination. The two promised more benefit concerts coming up.

      3.) Finally, I just discovered this wonderful initiative “Rain Boots for Syrian children” which has collected 4,000 snow boots in 48 hours. The boots cost just $5 each. Click here for details on how to donate and see more pictures of the distribution here.

      Barefoot children get new boots. Image/Facebook

      Still not feeling inspired? Watch this video by the organizers of last week’s clothing drive and see how one person sitting at home can make a huge difference. In this case, she was sitting in her car:

      Finally for those living abroad, you may consider supporting some of the bigger international organizations on the ground as well. Beirut.com has complied this list of 7 places you can donate.

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      This piece was originally published in the December issue of Bold Magazine.

      Aid: Lebanon’s Mission Impossible

      IT HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS THE WORST REFUGEE CRISIS TO BEFALL ANY NATION IN HISTORY, BUT SO FAR LEBANON HAS RECEIVED A MINISCULE AMOUNT OF AID TO COPE WITH THE SYRIAN REFUGEE INFLUX. HOWEVER THERE IS SOMETHING THE LOCAL PRIVATE SECTOR CAN DO 

      By Habib BattahA

      s world powers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on weapons shipments to Syria, a negligible amount of cash has gone toward the unprecedented humanitarian crisis the war has created, particularly in Lebanon, Syria’s poorest and smallest neighbor. 

      With Syrian citizens pouring over Lebanon’s borders at a rate of 3,000 per day, the number of refugees is projected to grow to two million in 2014, nearing a 50% increase in an existing population of around 4.5 million. The result has been a massive burden on the country’s already dysfunctional social services, and by next year, the Syrian war will have cost the debt-ridden Lebanese economy some $7.5 billion, according to a World Bank assessment. 

      Yet thus far, BOLD has learned that the Lebanese state has received just $2.8 million in direct aid from the international community, or less than 0.1% of its total appeal, government estimates show. 

      To entice donors, the World Bank is now setting up a multi-donor trust fund to raise up to $400 million to support the short-term spike in spending by Lebanese public institutions such as healthcare, education and sanitation services, which have grown exponentially. But so far only Norway has announced that it will donate around $2 million to the fund, according to Haneen Sayed, human development coordinator at the World Bank’s Lebanon office. 

      She said Holland and Great Britain have also shown interest, but there have been no other commitments thus far. 

      “It may not be very big,” Sayed said, later adding: “I think it will start small and grow.” 

      But Lebanon’s finance minister, Mohamad Safadi, was not optimistic about donations after a recent meeting with officials from the World Bank and International Monetary fund. “I am afraid that Lebanon will not receive the required assistance,” the minister told reporters during a trip to Washington in October. 

      A major sticking point may be Lebanon’s opaque track record on transparency, efficiency and corruption when it comes to executing national and humanitarian projects. Just this November, the head of Lebanon’s Higher Relief Council was arrested on embezzlement charges after media reports emerged alleging he had transferred more than $13 million of public funds to private accounts outside Lebanon. 

      The official, Ibrahim Bashir, denied the charges, making the counterclaim that he had “transformed” the relief council from “a Beiruti-Sunni monopoly that offered help to a limited class of people,” Lebanon’s Daily Star reported. 

      The corruption trial of Ibrahim Bashir and the counterclaims he launched against the Higher Relief Council raise questions about Lebanon’s ability to distribute aid transparently. Photo/Daily Star

       

      According to the World Bank’s Sayed, the new trust fund will be managed by the bank and subject to its strict monitoring and fiduciary controls, helping allay transparency reservations. 

      “One of the concerns donors have is where will the money go, how the money will be spent,” she says. 

      But Samir Daher, an advisor to Lebanon’s prime minister, rejects the idea that the absence of a transparent fund has discouraged donations. 

      ’Not good donors’ 

      “Donors who are waiting for a trust fund are not the good donors. They are not waiting for the fund, they are waiting for their good conscience to start working,” he says. “If they are so concerned, they can channel money directly or take refugees to their own countries.” 

      Indeed, while Lebanon is currently hosting over a million refugees, arriving at a rate of thousands per day, European and North American countries have only pledged to grant asylum to some 10,000 individuals according to the UNHCR. And of that number, just 658 have actually departed for Europe this year, which is less than 0.06% of all Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon. 

      Moreover the main funders of the war, such as Qatar and Russia, have provided just 3% of their fair share of the UN’s humanitarian aid appeal, according to a report issued by Oxfam in September. The report added that France and the United States have delivered only around half of their respective shares. 

      In Lebanon, the shortfall in humanitarian funding has meant that the UNHCR has received only half of its total aid request, or some $600 million. As a result, the UN refugee agency says it has been forced to discontinue assistance such as food vouchers to 35% of recipients. This includes families living outside in tents. The crisis is likely to worsen as winter settles in, with tens of thousands of the refugees having set up camp in flood zones with no floors or walls for protection and a lack of winter clothing. 

      Meanwhile Lebanese institutions are struggling to cope with the one million plus population influx. Hospitals beds are becoming scarce and public schools are overwhelmed with some 100,000 new students or around one third of the entire public school population, says Daher. At the same time, subsidized state services such as power production and sanitation have increased exponentially. For example, Daher says Lebanon’s garbage collection is up from 4 million to 6 million tons, and the country must now produce an additional 320 megawatts of electricity, a significant shortfall that may increase the routine power cuts, which are already as high as 12 hours per day. 

      Worse still, the Syrian refugee crisis is expected to lead to a spike in unemployment, with the World Bank projecting 170,000 Lebanese will enter poverty, having lost jobs to Syrian laborers who will accept lower wages. The cost of maintaining current services alone — not including opportunity costs and related expenses — will be $2.5 billion, money that cash-strapped Lebanon, which has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world, simply does not have. 

      “There is no example in the world, in history, of a country taking so much, and not getting heavy lifting from the international community when it comes to aid assistance and support,” the Bank’s Middle East director Ferid Belhaj, told Reuters in November. 

      No direct funding 

      Yet Daher, the prime minister’s advisor, complains the vast majority of donor money goes toward the UN’s operation and virtually none of the $600 million it has received is funneled directly toward Lebanese institutions. Major contributors to UN and non-government organization funding in Lebanon include Kuwait, at $300 million, and the United States at $250 million. But embassy sources from both countries declined to comment on the possibility of donating to the World Bank’s Lebanon trust fund or why they had largely chosen to support UN and NGO efforts over direct funding of Lebanese institutions. Both the French and UAE embassies also did not respond to requests for comment on the trust fund, despite repeated requests. 

      There is little room left in Lebanese schools and little aid goes toward local institutions.


      Angelina Eichhorst, the European Union representative in Lebanon, said the EU had “no intention” of contributing to the fund, though it “could be potentially interesting for donors.” 

      “We prefer to go through UN agencies and NGOs, ie, to those who have a clear added value, relatively lowest transaction costs, etc,” she said via email. 

      Eichhorst added that EU funding to Lebanon related to the Syrian crisis, which amounts to some $300 million, would support efforts at various ministries, such as education, agriculture and energy. 

      Meanwhile the United Kingdom also reported its humanitarian contribution to Lebanon of around $111 million had gone toward the UN and NGOs. Michelle Macaron, embassy communications manager, added by email: “The Trust Fund is an admirable initiative and we are following its progress closely.” 

      Some critics have suggested that due to the resignation of the Lebanese government in March, the current caretaker government is considered unreliable. But Daher denies that the caretaker government lacks capacity to deal with the worsening crisis, adding: “There is no question that this government is doing all that it can.” 

      Yet some question the response time. The refugee crisis is now almost three years old and the trust fund is only now being set up, and will not be finalized until mid-December, the World Bank says. 

      Ramzi Naaman, a former advisor to the prime minister on humanitarian issues, said organizing the trust fund presented a daunting challenge for intergovernmental cooperation, known to be problematic in Lebanon. 

      “This is an issue that must bring a lot of parties together,” he said. “When you start looking at plans, that means you as a government have decided to reorganize yourself. 

      Lebanon needs support 

      “If we are really aiming to have a trust fund, it’s not merely to support Lebanon in dealing with the Syrian crisis, it also needs to support Lebanon in making sure that it can implement its national plans.” 

      Sayed from the World Bank says the fund, if successful, will begin with small scale existing projects and short-term solutions. This may include refurbishing of schools and assistance to municipalities in garbage collection. Other programs may tackle job training and subsidizing of companies to hire new employees. The fund will not be able to tackle the strain on major infrastructure such as power production or widespread poverty that affects a quarter of Lebanese citizens. 

      One quarter of Lebanon’s population is already impoverished and many will lose jobs to the refugees



      “The situation of extremely poor Lebanese is not much better and in some cases is worse than that of the Syrians,” says Naaman, who formerly headed the government’s anti-poverty program. 

      He worries that swift delivery of aid to some of the refugees may cause resentment among locals and potential social tensions in Lebanon’s poorest regions, such as remote Akkar. 

      “The people of Akkar may have thought living in extreme poverty was a way of life, but then the Syrians came in and were being assisted immediately with cash, food, shelter and healthcare. And then a person in Akkar may be thinking ’my government was not giving me the right things.’ And when the crisis is over and Syrians are out, he may say, ’I want water, I want health care, I want services, I want infrastructure. I want to change the way I live.’ 

      “So this crisis has not only impacted us in terms of pressures, it has also somehow helped emerge a lot of our problems that have historically existed,” Naaman says. 

      Instead of just waiting for money from foreign donors, there may also an opportunity for the private sector to get involved. Lebanese companies could chip in to make job-creating projects happen, particularly the country’s banks, awash with over $120 billion in deposits, or nearly three times Lebanon’s GDP. With the right political leadership, such projects could be tax deductible and provide work for both Syrians and Lebanese, which could help defuse tensions, Naaman said. 

      Awash in billions of dollars, Lebanese banks could do a lot more to deal with the crisis. Photo/Daily Star



      CSR Bragging rights 

      “Everyone keeps bragging about their corporate social responsibility,” he says. “So let’s say to every bank, okay we need to put $100,000 in that pot or maybe $200,000 to create a fund to help the Lebanese host communities, to develop a project in those communities.” 

      The projects could be used to help promote banks, and, with enough media exposure, initial donations could encourage other banks and corporations to match their competitors, he said. 

      “You want to contribute to the development and stability of your country, this is it,” Naaman says. “Take the initiative and use the media.” 

      The effect could turn a crisis into an opportunity for long-term development and national reconciliation, Naaman explains. 

      “You give an example of solidarity among the Lebanese,” he says. “The only way to overcome confessionalism is to to open up, so how about setting up this humanitarian issue, that would set an example. Social solidarity is the foundation of a nationalistic attitude, belonging to a country, not a sect.”

      On my recent trip to a Syrian refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley, I was struck by a Wifi router rising above the squalid living conditions:
      Satellite dishes were also everywhere in this camp, which is located near the small Bekaa town of Jeb Janine:
      The same was true further south in Ain El Hilwe camp, which has one of the worst living conditions for refugees from Syria:
      Conditions in Ain El Hilwe are so bad, there are no showers and some 80 families are forced to share two bathrooms.  
      Have a look at the technological state of one family’s kitchen, with no running water:

      I think back to these images when people studying the region often claim the internet and social media networks are only accessible to elites.

      Even when internet is scarce, satellite television channels often diseminate those youtube videos to a wider audience:

      But all this is surely to change once the rains begin. Luckily for the hundreds of thousands living in tents like these, Lebanon has yet to see a major downfall this season. A few showers did significant damage in September, but this will be nothing compared to the massive floods in December and January, with hundreds of tent cities like these set up in flood zones across the Bekaa and elsewhere.

      Even for the few tents that have concrete floors, they are only lifted a few inches off the ground, as seen in the photo above.

      Meanwhile many roofs are made of cardboard:

      Some aid workers have told me that plastic sheets are being distributed to camps, but I’m not sure how much that will help when the winds and mudslides kick in. 
      With a 50 percent total population increase, Lebanon faces a looming humanitarian crisis that is stretching already dilapidated public health and education institutions to capacity, as I recently wrote in a piece for Al Jazeera. 
      I’m now working on a follow-up about the government’s response plan and it’s not looking very encouraging. According to the World Bank, Lebanon faces the greatest influx in modern history, and so far, few countries have made concrete commitments to help out. 
      Water siphoning at Jib Janeen camp