OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – Canada is reiterating its support for Lebanon, just days after a massive explosion devastated an already-fragile country.
The blast at the Beirut port left at least 135 people dead, injured more than 5,000, and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
In an effort to help the Lebanese people, who are already dealing with a severe economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, the Canadian government has pledged up to $5 million.
“Canadians were shocked and deeply saddened by the devastating toll of Tuesday’s explosion on the people and city of Beirut, Lebanon,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “We mourn the tragic deaths of so many people, and wish a full and quick recovery to the thousands who were injured.”
He noted Canada and Lebanon “share a deep and longstanding friendship,” one that is “rooted in close people-to-people ties.”
Canadians were shocked & deeply saddened by the devastating toll of Tuesday's explosion in Beirut. We mourn the tragic loss of life, and wish a full & quick recovery to the thousands who were injured. We are with you, and will be there to help you overcome this tragedy.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) August 6, 2020
The government has said it is evaluating the need in Lebanon, with Minister of International Development Karina Gould saying “all options are on the table.”
“The most important thing is that the aid that we provide goes to what the needs are,” Gould said though a translator.
Aid and fears of corruption
She said $1.5 million of the $5 million pledged will go to the Lebanese Red Cross “and other partners who are acting on the ground” immediately to help the organization provide food, shelter, and emergency medical services to those in need.
“Right now, the priority is to save lives,” Gould said.
People around the globe have come together to help support recovery in Lebanon. A number of fundraisers raised thousands of dollars within hours for various NGOs on the ground in Lebanon, while the Lebanese Red Cross has also received direct donations to aid in its efforts.
“Canada was one of the first countries to respond with assistance yesterday (Wednesday),” Gould added.
However, with concerns about rampant corruption within the Lebanese government, Gould tried to quell concerns that humanitarian dollars would not end up in the hands of the wrong people.
“Our humanitarian assistance goes through trusted NGO, humanitarian, and multi-lateral partners on the ground,” Gould said, adding Canada has worked with the Lebanese people for the past decades. “So, we have a number of partners, be they NGOs, humanitarian organizations, or the multi-lateral organizations, such as UN agencies, with whom we have longstanding trusted partnerships. And so, our humanitarian assistance will continue to flow through these organizations.”
Gould said the only organization that’s received Canadian assistance so far is the Lebanese Red Cross, which received funds through a transfer from the Canadian Red Cross.
A country already struggling
The economic crisis in Lebanon had already been on the international community’s radar for months. Gould said the financial situation in the country was of great concern to Canada.
“We’ve also seen the significant repercussions that this has had amongst the Lebanese people,” she said. “Canada is always willing to have conversations, whether it’s with the G7 or the G20 or the multilateral development banks, to see what we can do to assist Lebanon. However, we feel very strongly that there need to be significant political and economic reforms within the country to make sure that assistance would be most effective.”
She noted Tuesday’s explosion “highlighted the urgency of making sure that Lebanon can get into a much better fiscal position.”
While surveying the damage in Beirut on Thursday, French President Emanuel Macron was met by crowds chanting “revolution!”
“Most of all, don’t give any money to our corrupt government please,” one woman said to Macron in French, to which he replied, also in French, “Don’t worry.”
Meanwhile, vigils have popped up across Canada, including in Vancouver, where more than 50 people gathered to honour those killed, hurt, and left homeless by the powerful explosion.
Despite there being thousands of Canadian citizens registered in Lebanon, Gould said the federal government hasn’t received a large number of requests for assistance following the blast.
Those who have requested help are being assisted through Canada’s Consular Support Services in Ottawa, as the embassy in Lebanon remains closed. Gould said, however, that the embassy did not sustain major damage in Tuesday’s explosion. Embassy operations are expected to resume on Monday.