Exclusive: UN Shields Lebanon from Instability, Economic Deterioration
The United Nations raises a security, economic, political and diplomatic umbrella over Lebanon – a country suffering from economic deterioration, security threats on the southern border, and tensions of political alignments.
With 26 offices in Lebanon, and other Beirut-based organizations, the UN spends more than $1 billion a year in the form of aid pumped into the Lebanese market.
This international diplomatic presence is primarily a lever for Lebanese affairs in global forums and has gained momentum strength amid a determination by the international community to protect Lebanon’s stability at various levels.
The country hosts tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and more than a million displaced Syrians. It is also characterized by its pluralistic model of government, which is necessary to maintain, despite its fragility.
Based on the factors listed above, Lebanon enjoys a special international attention, and reportedly receives one of the highest rates of UN aid in the region, which gives it some economic immunity.
There are more than 26 UN offices that carry out diplomatic and service missions, led by the Office of the Special Coordinator of the UN Secretary-General in Lebanon. Entities include the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and many others.
The UN Resident Coordinator, Philippe Lazzarini, heads the United Nations team in the country. But the UN offices certainly do not include the UN Truce Supervision Force (UNTSO), the role of which is not confined to Lebanon.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Lazzarini noted that the United Nations has developed during the past three years the so-called full approach to Lebanon.
“Our contribution to Lebanon will be to provide support to maintain stability and help in dealing with the impact of regional crises,” he said.
The UN approach initially focused on peace and security. To that end, the UNIFIL in the south plays an important role in maintaining stability on the southern border. UN contributions also focus on other pillars called the “pillars of stability” which address issues of governance, the rule of law and human rights, and support municipal or parliamentary elections.
The third pillar is represented by a socio-economic approach, divided into two parts. The first is to help the country mitigate the impact of the Syrian crisis, which means direct support for Syrian refugees and for host communities. The second is to assist the government in addressing existing reform programs in order to obtain a more favorable environment for economic activities.
UN figures show that there are more than 2,700 employees working within UN agencies in the country, 80 percent of whom are Lebanese, and 20 percent foreign nationals. These figures do not include the more than 10,500 UNIFIL peacekeepers in the south. The staff budget is part of the overall assistance provided by the United Nations to Lebanon.
Since 2015, the UN has spent an average of $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion a year in Lebanon. About $1 billion is spent through UN agencies and the rest through other partners and organizations in the country.
This aid represents an international shield for Lebanon’s economic stability. According to Lazzarini, this contribution certainly helped the country, although it did not address all the existing problems. Aid cannot resolve all the political, economic, social and security problems because most of the assistance is of a humanitarian nature at present.
“If you compare Lebanon with many other countries in the world, you will find that over the past four years, the country topped the recipients of humanitarian or international aid, because the volume of contributions exceeds $1 billion per year, excluding support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, Internal Security Forces, and the annual budget of UNIFIL,” the UN Resident Coordinator said.
“It is true that we have not compensated for the slow growth of the economy, but we have contributed to preventing its further decline; because a billion dollars and more, injected into the economy, helps reduce the burden,” he remarked.
The UN official believes that the organization’s work has also contributed to maintaining some stability, but without keeping Lebanon out of danger.
However, Lazzarini asserts that the country “is still outside the danger zone, and has shown its ability in the last eight years not to fall into it.”