U.S. Prepared To Boost Reconstruction Aid for Lebanon
19 April 2007
Administration officials lobby Congress for additional funds
Washington – President Bush has requested a dramatic increase in levels of funding to support ongoing relief and reconstruction efforts in Lebanon as part of the supplemental budget now under consideration in Congress, and administration officials addressing a congressional subcommittee asserted that the funds are necessary to support progressive forces in that country.
David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, testified that the United States has mobilized considerable economic assistance to support the democratically elected government of Lebanon against those who seek to destabilize it.
Welch testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia April 18.
“The issue is can we enable the people who want to think in a forward-looking way about the future of their nation … to do what's right for their nation?” he said. “We're convinced that there are people, led by the prime minister of Lebanon, backed by his majority in parliament, who do want to see that future for Lebanon, who want to put the civil war behind them, who are working energetically to use the international assistance that's been offered to shape their country's future.”
In keeping with a U.S. pledge at the January Paris donors’ conference, the Bush administration has requested $770 million from Congress for Lebanon in the supplemental budget. This is in addition to the $230 million in emergency funds that President Bush authorized following the summer 2006 hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. In the past, U.S. assistance to Lebanon has amounted to about $40 million annually.
Mark Ward, a senior administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), told the subcommittee how the emergency funds have been used to date.
“Following the end of the cross-border crisis last summer, [U.S. government] efforts in Lebanon proved instrumental in limiting suffering and instability,” he said. He explained that USAID has focused its activities on the most important humanitarian relief requirements identified by the Lebanese government. These include rebuilding key transportation infrastructure; rebuilding homes and private infrastructure; rehabilitating schools; cleaning up a major oil spill; restoring coastal livelihoods; and assisting in the disposal of unexploded ordnance.
Ward gave examples of USAID projects in these areas. The Mudeirej Bridge, a key link between the port of Beirut and the interior of Lebanon, was severely damaged under Israeli bombardment. With a USAID grant, a construction company now is patching the northern span of the bridge and preparing to replace the entire southern span. The construction work is expected to be completed in April 2008. Ward pointed out that this project is creating hundreds of jobs for Lebanese workers.
He said the United States also is rehabilitating more than 200 schools across the country. Many of these schools sustained damage during the bombardments and were subject to wear from serving as temporary shelters for people fleeing the conflict. The assistance is helping improve sanitary conditions, upgrade facilities and provide new supplies and equipment, he said.
One of the primary environmental concerns of the Lebanese government following the conflict was an oil spill originating from fuel tanks damaged during an Israeli attack on the Jiyeh power plant south of Beirut. The 10-kilometer wide oil slick spread 170 kilometers up the coast to pollute beaches, harbors, fisheries and turtle nesting sites. According to Ward, USAID mobilized more than 200 local workers to remove 36,000 bags of oil-contaminated waste along the beaches from Byblos to Anfeh and completed the cleanup operation in record time. He pointed out that the project provided useful skills to local workers in the event of a future oil spill in the region. (See related article.)
Ward said $250 million of the supplemental aid request would provide budget support to the Lebanese government contingent on the government adopting economic reforms. Another $50 million would be devoted to strengthening legislative and judicial processes, improving delivery of municipal services and encouraging civil society participation. (See related article.)
He also reported on the activities of the Partnership for Lebanon, a reconstruction and development initiative led by five business leaders from the American private sector. The partnership has issued grants to several nongovernmental organizations working in Lebanon to revive private sector growth through skills training, job creation and investment in information technology infrastructure.
Welch testified that the presence of Hezbollah remains the single largest problem in Lebanon. Ward assured the subcommittee members that USAID has safeguards to ensure that none of its funds benefit Hezbollah, even as it operates in Hezbollah territory. He further said that Hezbollah’s generous promises of assistance to civilian victims of the hostilities apparently had not materialized.
“[D]onors raise expectations, and then if you don't come through, people start grumbling. People are grumbling now,” he said. “[W]hen we send people down to begin our long-term programs, which are going to be longer term and more sustainable than anything Hezbollah can do, what we're hearing is that the promises of the cash [from Hezbollah]to rebuild didn't come through in the numbers that were promised.”
For more information on U.S. policy, see Lebanon Assistance.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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