Roundtable Discussion on International Organization’s Emergency Response to Lebanon’s Human Security Crisis and Ways for Socio-Economic Protection and Recovery

Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and the National Human Security Forum (NHSF) organized a hybrid roundtable discussion, held both in-person and via Zoom, addressing “international organization’s emergency response to Lebanon’s human security crisis and ways for socio-economic protection and recovery”. The event, which took place at the Movenpick Hotel in Beirut, formed part of the NHSF project launched in November 2020 to hold a series of meetings with a group of relevant stakeholders to discuss cooperation for human security and well-being in Lebanon.

The event was addressed by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Resident Representative to Lebanon Michael Bauer, OCHA Head of Office in Lebanon Severine Rey, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) Ziad Abdel Samad, World Bank Program Leader for Human Development in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan Haneen Sayed, Associate Protection Officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Richard Akiki, Director of Civil – Military Cooperation Brigadier General P.S.C Elie Abi Rached, Director of NHSF and human security expert Dr. Imad Salamey, and Associate Director Dr. Elie Mikhael, and attended by experts and representatives from the military and security corps, the European Union, and civil society organizations, academics, and media professionals.

Dr. Maria Njaim commenced the meeting with an opening speech followed by welcoming remarks by Michael Bauer who stated: “We launched this series of roundtable discussions with the aim of establishing a permanent platform for dialogue and coordination with a focus on human security. We are happy with the progress achieved over the years and we look forward to more and more progress.” He then added: “The National Human Security Forum aims to consolidate and strengthen our partnership with the civil society through discussions that promote dialogue, cooperation, the exchange of expertise and information, and emergency responses to humanitarian crises.”

An intervention by Dr. Imad Salamey followed, throughout which he raised several questions. First, how do international organizations identify needs and priorities in crisis response? Second, what are the implementation and coordination mechanisms that international organizations adopt to carry out their plans and reach target groups, especially marginalized groups, and how do they verify that such projects indeed reach target categories? Third, how do international organizations ensure that their aid and assistance is not exploited politically?

With regard to humanitarian crises in Lebanon, Severine Rey indicated that: “Lebanon is a special case because it incorporates a large number of humanitarian actors.” Rey additionally emphasized cooperation among all parties and the importance of monitoring, transparency, and cooperation. Furthermore, when addressing the reaction and response to the humanitarian crisis, Rey suggested that: “the role of humanitarian organizations is to intervene, help, and save human lives in danger. We will continue to carry out this role, but the most important goal is to get the patient to the hospital in time [analogy]. The role of international organizations is to lead when needed, but they cannot keep on leading indefinitely. Therefore, we work in Lebanon to help reach a solution, but we are not the solution. We provide temporary assistance and serve as a transitional phase until a solution is reached.”

Rey considered that the fundamental solution for Lebanon lies in “the rapid undertaking of reforms and implementation of social protection commitments.”

In his discussion of the partnership between the civil society and governmental organizations, Ziad Abdel Samad pointed out that “the crisis in Lebanon is an existential crisis; it therefore constitutes a direct threat to human security.” He also explained that this crisis is three-dimensional: “The first dimension is internal and relates to political governance in the country based upon the idea of confessional and sectarian quotas. It is this dimension that led Lebanon to its current situation. The second dimension is the political, economic, and social choices built upon the idea of strengthening a ‘rentier’ economy at the expense of a productive economy. The third dimension is regional factors that influence the Lebanese interior.”

Abdel Samad suggested that the main vision for addressing the crisis in Lebanon and the requirements for properly responding to it are centered around “realigning Lebanese relations at all levels, regionally, internationally, and domestically.”

He further mentioned that, in their humanitarian interventions, the international community and international organizations must “take into consideration long-term social impact and sustainability; they should equally make sure that their interventions do not cause any adverse effect on individuals and societies.”

Haneen Sayed began her intervention by clarifying that “the World Bank is not a humanitarian agency”. She explained that it is rather “a development agency; although we do provide financial assistance, our most important role remains reflecting on issues, analyzing them, and using data. We issue periodic reports that analyze the economic situation in Lebanon and shed light on core issues.” Sayed touched upon several reports issued by the World Bank on Lebanon and said: “It is necessary to identify the causes of crises and work on preventing them. The situation in Lebanon is very complex and full of challenges.” She explicitly stated that “the political structure constitutes the main reason for system fragility and the emergence of crises. That is why solutions should focus on structural problems that cast their shadow on the situation in the country.” Moreover, Sayed emphasized that the World Bank regulations and system “which act as a constitution, prevent us from interfering in politics.” With regard to Lebanon, she said: “There is a need for reforms, but the problem is that the situation continues to deteriorate, which leads to a catastrophic humanitarian crisis that affects the whole of the Lebanese population.” Sayed then presented the five main areas he World Bank considers essential for recovery: (1) establishing a new political system representative of all groups; (2) enhancing accountability and institution-building; (3) preserving and rebuilding human capital; (4) increasing economic opportunities and helping Lebanon transition to a new economic system and model based on productive sectors and activities; and (5) improving public services and infrastructure.

Sayed concluded by stating: “Lebanon is the poorest country in the world in terms of providing data. It is impossible to get any work done without data and statistics, and the government must become responsible for data provision and not just rely on statistics produced by the United Nations.”

Richard Akiki addressed the Syrian refugee crisis, which took its toll economically and humanitarianly on Lebanon. He discussed the contribution of the UNHCR to facing this crisis and presented its main tasks and fields of operation. He mentioned that “human security constitutes the core of UNHCR’s work, as it provides protection, assistance, and solutions to individuals concerned”. He added that “we secure the rights of individuals, such as their right to asylum, shelter, education and healthcare.” With respect to refugees, Akiki clarified: “the situation is complicated and manifold. Refugees must be provided with a decent life and permanent home. We are helping them with their safe return to Syria because, in Lebanon, it is not possible to grant them a permanent residence status or nationality.”

Akiki then detailed the operations of the UNHCR in Lebanon and pointed out that the amount of cash assistance Syrian refugee families are believed to be receiving are exaggerated, “as each family receives 400,000 LBP and does not receive any aid in US Dollars. In addition, 13,000 families benefitted from this assistance before the start of the crisis, but this number increased to reach 170,000 families afterwards. Negotiations are currently being held, however, to double the value of cash assistance while decreasing the number of beneficiary families and converting the amount to the US Dollar currency. Syrian families further receive a one-time amount of 200,000 LBP, and around 87,000 Lebanese families receive a one-time cash assistance of 954,000 LBP.”

Akiki finally applauded the generosity of Lebanon and Lebanese citizens “who host such large numbers of Syrian refugees” and considered that “the main cause of economic problems in Lebanon lies in structural issues unrelated to the influx of refugees.”

In turn, Brigadier General Director of CIMIC, Elie Abi Rached explained that “the Directorate of Civil-Military Cooperation was established within the Lebanese Armed Forces in 2015. Its mission is to help the people and support all efforts taken in this regard. Based on that, our participation in the Human Security Forum aims to promote thinking about how to support people, especially in light of the current economic and social circumstances.” He added that “the current crisis facing Lebanon requires joining all military, civil, and international efforts while safeguarding national sovereignty and treating all individuals as equally valuable regardless of their affiliations, loyalties, or beliefs.”

The interventions were followed by a roundtable discussion joining all participants.

About the National Human Security Forum

The National Human Security Forum (NHSF) aims to promote partnership, exchange, and coordination among stakeholders in Lebanon with a view to achieve rapid response to disasters and threats facing human security. The NHSF is directed by Dr. Imad Salamey, Professor of Political Science and expert in human security, and Dr. Elie Mikhael, Professor of Health Policies, and is coordinated by Dr. Maria Njaim, Professor of International Relations and expert in civil-military cooperation.

NHSF organizes a series of roundtable discussions that host experts in human and economic security.

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