Guterres saluted the spirit of the Lebanese people – “neighbors helping neighbors, people clearing their streets of broken glass and opening their homes to those who have lost theirs”
Amal Mudallali, Lebanon’s ambassador to the UN, likened the blast to “15 years of war in 15 seconds, the darkest 15 seconds we have ever seen”
NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a “credible and transparent” investigation into the causes of the explosion at Beirut’s port last week that killed dozens of people and left thousands injured.
His comments echoed the demands of protesters who took to the streets throughout the weekend and on Monday. They blame years of government corruption and incompetence for the blast.
Amal Mudallali, Lebanon’s ambassador to the UN, likened the blast to “15 years of war in 15 seconds, the darkest 15 seconds we have ever seen.”
In an emotional keynote speech during a UN virtual briefing on the humanitarian situation in Lebanon, she added: “People are demanding, and deserve, justice — and rightly so.”
As he opened the international gathering on Monday, Guterres saluted the spirit of the Lebanese people in the aftermath of the massive explosion, giving the example of “neighbors helping neighbors, people clearing their streets of broken glass and opening their homes to those who have lost theirs.”
He urged international donors to provide aid “speedily and generously” to help the devastated country, but also stressed the importance of implementing longer-term political and economic reforms in the country that address the needs of the Lebanese people.
The UN has sent search-and-rescue experts to assist first responders in Beirut, along with desperately needed medical supplies to treat the injured. In addition, the organization has provided $15 million to help fund urgent needs such as temporary shelters for families whose homes were damaged, and the import of wheat flour and grain for bakeries to help address food shortages across the country after grain silos at the port were destroyed.
Guterres urged world leaders to build on the efforts of French President Emmanuel Macron, who on Thursday was the first world leader to visit Beirut after the explosion.
Mudallali evoked the words of former French President Charles de Gaulle as she said of the visit: “The Lebanese hearts were truly beating to the rhythm of France’s heart as we saw Macron and the French come to the rescue of Lebanon.”
On Sunday, Macron co-convened a virtual donors’ conference to solicit international assistance for Lebanon, during which world leaders and international organizations pledged $300 million.
Donors said the humanitarian aid will be coordinated by the UN and delivered directly to the Lebanese people, a clear indication of their concerns that any money delivered to the government will not be used properly. They also warned that investment in rebuilding the city will be contingent on the full commitment of the authorities in the country to “timely measures and reforms expected by the Lebanese people.”
Macron has insisted on reforms, in co-ordination with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to tackle deep-seated corruption and restore order to Lebanon’s crippled economy and the banking system. The IMF has criticized the ruling elite in the country for a “shortage of political will to adopt and implement meaningful reforms.”
More than 50 countries participated in Monday’s UN briefing. They unanimously expressed solidarity with the Lebanese people and promised a prompt response to their urgent needs.
David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, warned that Lebanon is facing bread shortages within two weeks, and said efforts are being made to import grains to avoid this. He said he met Lebanese President Michel Aoun and cabinet ministers and asked them for “absolute cooperation. No obstacles. People on the streets have been asking us to please make sure the aid goes directly to the people.”
Mudallali highlighted the priorities in Beirut: medicine, food, construction materials, and the rebuilding the city’s port. She urged the international community to “remain with us for the whole journey, and not only help with the emergency stage of the catastrophe. I appeal to you to stay with us for the second, most important stage: the rebuilding and rehabilitation stage.”
Despite the tragedy and the challenges facing Beirut as it recovers and rebuilds, the envoy concluded her speech on an upbeat, optimistic note.
“Lebanon, one of the countries that met in San Francisco 75 Years ago and founded the UN, promises you that it will rise again,” she said. “We will rebuild better. We will continue to offer a message of coexistence and tolerance, and we will continue to uphold the principles and values enshrined in the UN charter.
“But we have to do it together.”