Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Majdel Anjar, Beqaa Governorate Beirut, Lebanon

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Mayor Yassine, for your words. And thanks to all of you for such an incredibly warm welcome here in Majdel Anjar. Lebanon is an impossibly beautiful country. It is legendary for its beauty. But I must say, being here, seeing it first hand, adds a whole new depth of feeling for this rich, dynamic land. 

I arrived in Beirut yesterday to get a better picture of what has taken shape here in Lebanon, and to discuss the United States role in supporting the Lebanese people during a very, very trying time. Since being here, I've had the chance to hear from many people and I've heard similar stories almost no matter a person's background, about how the economic devastation and mismanagement in Lebanon is manifesting itself in nearly every facet of people's lives. Food has rapidly become unaffordable. 

In just three years, prices are said to have increased by almost 6,000 percent for certain food items. Just before this, I was able to tour the AIDCO fodder processing facility. And there, I announced an additional $72 million in emergency food assistance through the World Food Programme. And that's going to support more than 650,000 vulnerable Lebanese, as well as refugees from Syria and other countries, who have been generously welcomed here for such a long period of time. 

I've observed, firsthand, the difficulties Lebanon faces with water shortages and water quality due to the economic situation. Here in Majdel Anjar, water for nearly 20,000 residents comes from this solar power pump that I just had the opportunity to tour – 20,000 residents. Before the solar panels were installed, residents were getting, on average, two and a half liters of water per day – not even enough water for one person. But now, thanks to this investment, this partnership, these solar panels, they are getting 20 liters of water per day. 

These panels are also saving the local government money, more than $95,000 worth of fuel annually, and saving each household $80 a month because those households no longer have to truck in water or buy bottles – and we've heard firsthand the difference that makes when resources are scarce, to be able to cut one expense – to eliminate an expense of that magnitude is major. 

This is, again, a very significant savings here in Majdel Anjar where household income, monthly, averages around $40. So, despite the fuel shortages and the high prices, more than half of the residents here can count on receiving clean water. This pump is just one of more than 40 solar-based projects that we are supporting here, in Lebanon. And these projects are already benefiting 460,000 residents in 70 towns and villages. 

It is clear that installing these solar pumps is a flat out success. It is helping everyone save money, and helping benefit the health and well-being of the Lebanese people, and those who have sought refuge within the country's borders. 

Today, I'm excited to announce that we will expand these efforts. USAID will pledge $8.5 million to support 22 new solar powered water pumping projects in more than 155 towns and villages across the country. These new projects will benefit more than half a million people, so they don't have to turn to unaffordable and often unsafe sources, and can instead receive consistent clean water at their taps without having to pay for fuel. 

Let me say a word about something that is related to what we’ve just seen here with the solar pump and related to the topic of water – and that is a disease on the mind of many, many Lebanese, which is cholera, which no Lebanese ever thought that they would really have to be talking about in the 21st century here, in Lebanon. 

These new projects that I just announced will restore chlorination equipment at each station, which is especially important as the country grapples with this cholera outbreak. The U.S. government is taking a number of other measures to address the outbreak – like providing treatment supplies, training, and support to primary health care centers – but maintaining these pumping stations at full capacity is one of the best ways to keep water safe and clean.

I'm grateful for our Lebanese partners and their work with us on all of these efforts. We are excited to see the financial and life saving relief that they will bring to the Lebanese people, and the Syrian refugees that Lebanon has graciously accepted. By providing a safe haven to more than one million Syrians, the Lebanese people have helped save countless lives, and these new projects announced today are going to help save even more. With that, I'm happy to take your questions. 

JULIA GROEBLACHER: Our first question will be from Dylan Collins from AFP.

DYLAN COLLINS: Hi, how are you? Thank you for doing this today. Part of your trip here is to announce this generous aid package, but part of your trip, I imagine, is to press for much needed reforms with Lebanese officials. What’s the message you’re bringing with you from the Biden Administration, regarding these reforms, and will USAID, well any U.S. aid, be dependent on these reforms?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I think the main message is encapsulated in an expression – that has gained traction in the United States from time to time, depending on the season – which is, the message is about the fierce urgency of now. 

It is long past time for political leaders from all quarters to come together, to rally around the importance of making these reforms with one objective in mind, which is to pull the Lebanese people out of these desperate economic conditions, that so many find themselves in – the people I've talked to, even just in the short time I've been in the country, find themselves in – and to do so, to do more than just put a bandaid on a problem, but to resolve these issues and tackle the underlying causes – significant reforms are needed. The IMF and Lebanese officials have reached a really important set of agreements about what the objectives are, but objectives are just objectives if they are objectives on paper – without hard choices, without compromise, without a willingness to build and strengthen the independence of the judiciary and rule of law, and to end self-dealing and corruption. 

This agreement on paper will remain just that, an agreement on paper. And so, I think our message is that these reforms are beyond urgent because the needs of the Lebanese people are beyond urgent. And of course, the first thing that has to happen – alongside taking steps in the here and now – to address again the human consequences of this crisis – it is extremely important as well, that Libyan [Lebanese] political leaders come together and appoint a president, put in place more than a caretaker cabinet. 

It's very hard to do the kind of deep structural reform, when you have people occupying offices, where they know you're just passing through, and are not in those positions permanently. Each of the ministries, even the ones the work that USAID does, engages with, will benefit from additional capacity. And again, the kind of relationship building and mobilization of resources that comes from knowing you're in it for the long haul, that's very hard to muster that kind of spirit when no one in Lebanon knows really what the configuration of the next government is going to be like. 

So, I'd say those are the two messages – fierce urgency of now on reforms, including steps that can be taken in the here and now, but also recognizing that a president needs to be appointed and a cabinet put in place to do the deep structural work to get at not only the IMF reforms that have been agreed to already, but the set of reforms around the rule of law and judicial independence that are going to be necessary for the Lebanese people to be the beneficiaries of the kind of structural institutional changes that are needed, rather than, again, simply a small segment of the political class, which has been the case too often in the past.

JULIA GROEBLACHER: Our last question is from Richard Salame from L'Orient Today.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Apparently, I said Libyan leaders and not Lebanese leaders I apologize. Blame the jetlag.

RICHARD SALAME: Thank you. On the topic of energy and Lebanon’s energy crisis, a number of governments, foreign governments, have attempted to respond to this, and one is the Iranian government has reportedly offered fuel donation to Lebanon. If Lebanon accepted the fuel donation from Iran would the U.S. consider this violation of American sanctions?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, on the subject of Iran, let me just take this occasion to express great, great admiration for the courage of the young people, and the Iranian people really of all generations who have come out, wanting for themselves the same things all of us want and every human deserves, which is basic dignity, freedom, economic opportunity. And it has been both inspiring to see that courage and the bravery in the face of such repression, but also just heartbreaking to see so many lives snuffed out with such promise, and again, snuffed out for no other reason than seeking to live as they choose, live with just basic freedom. 

When it comes to energy and fuel here in Lebanon, I will just say, our focus is on a couple of things. First, the incredible opportunities that are here to expand solar generation in a manner that happened very, very quickly – hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions of Lebanese. 

Right here, this is the path to the future. It will be cleaner for the environment as a whole, it will be cheaper as you've heard – just as one example of the water that flows now because of the solar installation – and we are very, very eager to work with municipalities, and others here in Lebanon, to support the expansion of solar installation infrastructure. 

Additionally, at just this time – we and the World Bank are working together to try to finalize regional energy deals that, again, will provide cleaner, cheaper, and more sustainable sources of energy. And they are, of course, working with Egypt and Jordan. And again, we have nothing to announce on that, but this is another area where Lebanese leaders – investing in these discussions and in this process, getting that new government in place is going to be really, really important.  So, we think there are energy solutions, on hand, that can make an enormous difference for the Lebanese people.


Administrator Samantha Power Travels to Lebanon

Samantha Power United Nations World Food Program Administrator Samantha Power Travels to Lebanon
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