Samantha Power speaks during a news conference at Majdal Anjar in Bekaa, Lebanon, on Wednesday. Reuters
The United States announced on Wednesday that it will give $80.5 million in aid for food assistance and solar-powered water pumping stations in the crisis-battered country of Lebanon.
The announcement was made by USAID chief Samantha Power during a visit to Lebanon ahead of a trip to Egypt for the COP27 UN climate conference.
During the visit, Power is set to meet with Lebanese political leaders to push for a resolution to the country’s political vacuum and for leaders to carry out a slate of political and economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund to clinch a $3 billion aid package.
The visit comes as Lebanon is in the grip of its worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. On Oct. 31, the six-year term of President Michel Aoun ended with no replacement elected.
Power declined to say, however, whether any US assistance would be contingent on Lebanon taking these measures.
"We are not focused on what happens if those reforms don’t happen. The reforms have to happen,” she told reporters.
The prospect of an IMF deal "should be enough to end the infighting and bickering and do what is needed for the sake of the country,” Power said.
USAID has provided about $260 million to Lebanon in 2022 to date. On Wednesday, Power announced an additional $72 million for food assistance to some 650,000 people over five months as part of a $2 billion global food security initiative.
Lebanon, which relies heavily on imported food and has historically imported the majority of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia, has faced increased food security anxieties in the wake of the Russian war in Ukraine.
Power also announced $8.5 million to fund 22 new solar-powered pumping stations. Lebanon has been dealing with a crippling electricity crisis that has also led to water shortages due to lack of power at pumping stations.
The shortages in public water supply are fueling a cholera outbreak, the first Lebanon has seen in three decades. Most Lebanese now rely on water trucked in by private suppliers, which is often not tested for safety.
Separately, Lebanon wants direct talks to demarcate its maritime border with Syria so it can begin offshore gas exploration, weeks after reaching a similar agreement with Israel, its top negotiator said.
The US-brokered sea border deal with Israel guarantees "stability" in a volatile region, where the two enemy states seek to exploit potentially gas-rich Mediterranean waters, Elias Bou Saab said.
Beirut now wishes to define its maritime borders with Syria to the north, and Cyprus, to the west, to consolidate its offshore rights.
"The Lebanese government must engage directly and publicly with the Syrian government and publicly demarcate our sea borders," Bou Saab, who is also Lebanon's deputy speaker of parliament, said late Tuesday.
"Any future government must undertake this task and put Lebanon's interest first," he insisted, while "leaving regional political conflicts out of this matter."
Bou Saab said the disputed maritime area between Lebanon and Syria is "perhaps more than 800 square kilometres.”
It could be "larger" than the area that had been disputed with Israel, he added.
At a closed council meeting Tuesday on the mission known as UNIFIL, whose mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month, US Ambassador Kelly Craft stressed the need for a new mandate.
In a statement, Pompeo also urged "the government, army, and security services to guarantee the safety of citizens as they engage in peaceful demonstrations." Lebanon formed a new government on Tuesday with the backing of Hezbollah, a group labeled terrorist by the United States.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will hold rare face-to-face talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Finland next week, TASS news agency quoted a deputy Russian foreign minister as saying on Friday.
Nearly 50 vehicles were involved in multiple collisions along a highway in Hunan province within the span of 10 minutes on Saturday evening, "with some vehicles catching on fire", local traffic police said in a statement.
On her first official visit, Sheikha Bodour met with the Chancellor, Chief Operating Officer, Provost, Deans, University Librarian, and Chief of Protocol to learn about the various portfolios and departments of the university.
The latest emergency order covers the southern region of La Araucania, next to the previously declared Biobio and Nuble regions, located near the middle of the South American country's long Pacific coastline.