MECHREF, Lebanon (AP) — France’s visiting foreign minister pledged Friday €15 million (US$17 million) in aid to Lebanon’s schools, which are struggling under the weight of the country’s major economic crisis.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said France will not let the “Lebanese youth alone” face the crisis that has hit the education sector hard.
Schools in Lebanon have let some teachers and administrators go and many face the risk of closure. Parents, struggling to pay private school fees, enrolled their children in already overcrowded public schools. The French assistance will go to a network of over 50 French and Francophone schools.
The economic crisis has impacted almost all facets of life in Lebanon, a small Mediterranean country long considered a middle-income state. Since last year, unemployment has risen and poverty deepened, as foreign currency dried up and the currency tumbled to lose more than 80 percent of its value before the dollar.
Le Drian, who arrived here late Wednesday, said France could only help Lebanon face the crisis if Lebanese officials do their part, urging them to introduce much needed reforms.
Le Drian is the first senior Western official to visit the struggling country. In stern public messages, he urged Lebanese officials to go through with an audit of the country’s central bank, reform a bloated and highly indebted electricity sector and maintain an independent judiciary.
France is the former colonial power in Lebanon and has previously organized conferences that pledged assistance to Lebanon but demanded reforms to the public sector and governance.
“Lebanon is on the verge of the abyss. But there are ways on the table to fix this,” he said Friday during a visit to a school in Mechref district, south of the capital Beirut.
During this visit, he said Lebanon is on France’s list of priority countries for humanitarian assistance, adding that his country already donated €50 million ($58 million), primarily to the health care sector to deal with the coronavirus challenge.
But Le Drian said Thursday the only way out of the financial and economic crisis for Lebanon is to secure a program with the International Monetary Fund. Then, France and its allies can secure assistance to Lebanon, he said.
Talks with the IMF have been bogged down in internal political disputes and struggles over who is to blame for banking losses.
Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in years of mismanagement and corruption. It has deepened since the government defaulted on its sovereign debt in March, the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions that it brought.
Lebanon witnessed nationwide protests last October after the government, as part of efforts to introduce austerity measures, levied new taxes on messaging service WhatsApp. Protesters accused the government of mismanagement and years of corruption and eventually forced then-premier, Saad Hariri, to resign.
A new government, backed by the powerful Hezbollah group and its allies was formed in January and has since been bogged down by domestic rivalries on ways to proceed with reforms and the IMF talks.
Image: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian wears a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus during his visit to the Carmel Saint Joseph school in the Mechref district, south of the capital Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, July 24, 2020. Le Drian pledged on Friday €15 million ($17 million) in aid to Lebanon’s schools, struggling under the weight of the country’s major economic crisis. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)