Thursday, November 10, 2022

Beirut-Rafik Hariri International Airport Beirut, Lebanon

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good evening, everyone. 

I’ve had a packed and weighty few days here in Lebanon. I traveled to the Beqaa to speak to farmers and herders beset by the grave economic crisis. There, I announced the U.S. would contribute an additional $72 million in emergency food assistance through the World Food Programme, and that should support more than 650,000 people in need. 

I also visited a Lebanese community hosting Syrian refugees, as you know there are many who are hosting refugees, they are now going to be able to collect water because of a new infusion of electricity brought about by the installation of a solar water pump in that community. This is one of 40 such solar pumps that USAID has helped install across Lebanon. I pledged an additional $8.5 million so that we can install – work with our partners on the ground to install an additional 22 pumps and that will serve an additional half a million Lebanese people. 

I spoke to students at American University of Beirut – the very future of this country – and announced, today, $50 million in new funding to help more than 3,600 students receive scholarships and financial assistance. 

And of course, I met with this country’s political leadership, including the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament, and urged them to put the needs of the Lebanese people first and quickly fill this unprecedented presidential vacancy. 

The people that I've spoken with in Lebanon expressed an overwhelming concern about the fate of this great nation after years of political dysfunction and economic shocks, which include, of course, a once in a century pandemic, and the searing port explosion. A nation where poverty is now the norm for nearly three quarters of the population, a nation with the highest percentage of land suitable for cultivation in the Arab world, yet that is now grappling with a food insecurity crisis. A nation that has been a cultural, economic, and intellectual crossroads for millennia, now faced with one of the world's worst economic crises in the past century and a half, and as well, the flight of so many talented Lebanese professionals to other countries, including so many medical professionals. Amidst hyperinflation, mounting debt, fuel shortages, and basic services that had been cut off or are crumbling, many can only see the situation here is getting worse. 

But, I also heard another story here this week, while touring one of this country’s most cherished institutions, the National Museum of Beirut. To walk through the halls of that museum today is to witness a testament to the history and culture of this ancient crossroads. But a generation ago, as you all know, that museum stood on the Green Line – at the center of the country’s civil war. For 15 years, the museum itself suffered siege and neglect, its walls pockmarked with bullet holes and mortar fire, its halls flooded with rainwater. But the museum, much like this country, was rebuilt and restored. 

Lebanon has that same opportunity today. To build upon that spirit of resilience and renewal, for which Lebanon is so famous in every corner of the world, to chart forward better days ahead. And even amidst the current uncertainty, there are clear steps which can be taken to build, and clear steps forward that must be taken. 

The historic agreement between Lebanon and Israel to demarcate the maritime boundary, a rare good news story out of this region and lately out of this country, that has breathed new life into Lebanon’s economic prospects. It is a clear sign to the outside world – to governments and to investors in the private sector – that there is political will here to make big, fundamental changes, if they serve the people and the goals of stability and shared prosperity. The energy deals proposed by Egypt and Jordan provide, similarly, a path for a significant restoration of electricity to Lebanon, a necessity for the economy to truly relaunch in a way we know it is capable of. 

These moves should pave the way for the leaders of Lebanon to capitalize on the country’s best prospect for breaking its current economic spiral – the $3 billion loan offered by the IMF, contingent on badly needed, and long-overdue, economic and financial reforms. 

Lebanon can rise from this low period in its history, just as it did following the civil war. The United States stands ready and eager to partner in even more substantial and deeper ways – as Lebanon does so, just as the United States and USAID have done for 60 years. 

It is absolutely essential that Lebanon's political leadership put the people of this country – people who are really in need, really struggling right now – put the welfare of those people above party, above sect, above political leaning. Lebanon needs a cabinet with a mandate to embrace and drive reforms. Lebanon needs leaders who are ready to stop infighting, to stop pointing fingers, to stop blaming outside forces, and to start solving problems for the people of this country who have waited too long. 

Thank you.

QUESTION: Administrator Samantha Power, thank you for this interview. You will participate in the [inaudible] What are the challenges facing the world today and also by climate change?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: The challenges posed by climate change are quite literally existential for so many communities around the world. And for the biodiversity that we have cherished for such a long time. I think it was a question of many land areas and whether they will be sustainable for agriculture. One of the things we, at USAID, do is we have innovation labs where we try to ensure that seeds that are coming online are resistant to heat, resistant to drought. We are working with countries also to plan for flooding, because you either have too much water or too little water in a world where climate change is wreaking such havoc. And I think, clearly, what you hear out of Egypt this week – and I'll be traveling to COP myself tonight, later this evening – is a cry for help from developing countries, who themselves, have done so little to cause the climate change problem – who are not big emitters, like the United States, and who are crying out for resources to make those investments, sometimes to help people move, sometimes to help people transition from one form of economic labor to another. Because maybe with climate change, a certain form of lifestyle is no longer sustainable – being pastoralists, for example, in very dry areas. 

So, USAID is active all around the world, and here in Lebanon, in the food security space, specifically. And by bringing solar energy to Lebanon – as I've had a chance to do on this trip – to ensure that not only do we have clean and cheap energy available to people who have not had proper access to energy or electricity in the past, but that we were able to do so in a manner that meets people and their needs right now. When the energy crisis in this country is so severe, when people are having blackouts or having no access to electricity, if you can actually build those solar panels, electrify communities, that can save money, that can save time, and above all that can grant access to families to clean water, and to the ability to power their phones, and their lives in a way that we know so many communities benefit from. 

QUESTION: What is your message to the Lebanese that there is no President and the concern is the economic crisis? What is your message now to the political leaders, first and to Lebanese people, second? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, my message to the Lebanese people, first of all, is that the United States stands with them. And we see what you are going through right now. It is incredibly painful to see such a dynamic, industrious, population suffering the kinds of economic pains that so many communities are going through, to see people not being able to get access to medicine, not being able to get health care, to have no electricity in their homes for weeks on end, and not to be able to afford putting a meal on the table for one's family. 

We know that Lebanese people do not want humanitarian assistance of the kind that I have brought on this visit. We know that this is a temporary phenomenon – that the Lebanese will get back on their feet. And this assistance is just meant to help get through this very, very difficult period. I think for Lebanese voices to continue to be raised, to never give up. There is a temptation sometimes to give up because people are so frustrated by the politicians, so fatalistic that anything will ever change, that the corruption will ever end, that the rule of law will never really be built here. But, the only way that things will change is that the people continue to exercise their rights, and their voices, and demand that change. 

For the politicians, we’re here at the airport in Beirut, and when I arrived a few days ago, I saw the portrait – the frame – where the President's photo normally hangs, and it's a very unusual experience to come and see a frame like that, and the photo had been taken out. There was no photograph, they didn't take the frame down, they left the frame up, almost as a message – which is ‘fill this frame’. 

It is very hard for me at USAID to attract the private sector, to attract investors, to say, ‘hey, let's give Lebanon another look right now’ when there is no President, when you have an unprecedented paralysis of this nature, when you only have a caretaker cabinet. So the message, of course, to all the political leaders is get this done, fill the frame, send the signal to the outside world that Lebanon is getting back on a path to political normalcy. Because in so doing, that is the way in which the tough decisions will be taken, the tough reforms will also move through the parliament, so that the IMF can earn resources, but also when the IMF comes, that will send a signal to the broader world that Lebanon has put itself on a more stable economic path, and that will again, unlock investments that currently are not being made. 

MODERATOR: Thank you so much. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Thank you.


Administrator Samantha Power Travels to Lebanon

Samantha Power world food program Administrator Samantha Power Travels to Lebanon
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