VIRGINIA: The United States is giving Lebanon more than $13 million in assistance “to mitigate” the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington said Wednesday.
A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut said that $13.3 million in aid would be divided into $5.3 million for United States Agency for International Development’s International Disaster Assistance for response activities focusing on the most vulnerable Lebanese.
Wednesday’s announcement was made to help “impact people's lives, by helping people on an individual and a societal basis to confront this pandemic,” U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea said.
This will be used to support private health facilities to appropriately triage, manage, and refer patients; ensure continuity of essential health services; carry out risk communication and community outreach activities; and increase access to water, sanitation, and hygiene activities in health care settings.
The remaining $8 million in aid will be from the U.S. State Department’s Migration and Refugee Assistance to UNHCR in order to help in the fight against coronavirus among “refugees and Lebanese host communities in need.”
New assistance announced Wednesday is in addition to the existing U.S. aid, “which has been reshaped over the past month through the allocation of nearly $12 million to address Lebanon’s emerging pandemic-related needs.”
The U.S. has provided more than $2.3 billion in humanitarian assistance to respond to the Syria crisis in Lebanon, the statement said. There are an estimated 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, in addition to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.
This assistance further builds upon the nearly $4.9 billion in bilateral aid, “including more than $187 million in health assistance, that the U.S. government has provided to Lebanon over the last 20 years.”
Programs such as USAID, through the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA), has invested more than $11 million over the past 10 years to support the construction, rehabilitation, and equipping of medical facilities at the American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University, the statement said.
Despite initial fears that the coronavirus would quickly spread throughout Lebanon, the country has seen 682 confirmed cases with 22 deaths and apart from the northern town of Bsharri, the virus has not been as lethal, relatively, as it has been in other countries.
According to Shea, Washington has been “pivoting” some of its existing assistance programs to make sure that they are as “responsive as possible to the needs on the ground.”
She added: “We have also been drawing on additional resources from Washington, tailoring that assistance with our trusted partners in Lebanon to help meet emerging needs.”
Nevertheless, analysts in Washington say that the aid announcement is part of a broader effort by the U.S. to push back against Iran and its proxies in the region.
“The press release obviously doesn’t mention the current Lebanese government – only the Lebanese people – because the U.S. is still observing and hasn’t made a decision on whether or not to work with this government. The Lebanese government continues to make empty promises,” a former Arab diplomat based in Washington told The Daily Star.
He also noted the similar COVID-19 aid announcements to Iraq and Palestine in recent weeks. “It’s the same theme right now: counter Iran.”
Despite cutting more than $300 million in funding to the U.N. refugee agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) in 2018, the U.S. announced last week the donation of $5 million to Palestine in “international disaster assistance from [USAID]” to help combat COVID-19.