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Additional aid for Lebanon recognizes political, economic challenges: Gould

OTTAWA — Canada's decision to increase its humanitarian aid to Lebanon recognizes the country already faced significant turmoil before last week's explosion and will need long-term support, International Development Minister Karina Gould said Tuesday

OTTAWA — Canada's decision to increase its humanitarian aid to Lebanon recognizes the country already faced significant turmoil before last week's explosion and will need long-term support, International Development Minister Karina Gould said Tuesday.

The Liberal government was criticized last week for promising only an initial $5 million — including $2 million to match donations from Canadians — to help the people of Lebanon struggling to recover from the deadly blast in Beirut.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an additional $25 million Monday evening, which will go to humanitarian aid agencies and organizations that work in the region.

The funding to match donations has now been expanded to a maximum of $5 million.

Gould said in an interview with The Canadian Press that Ottawa realized more would be needed and requests from international aid organizations would start coming in.

"We just made the decision to increase it knowing that the appeals will be coming out shortly, they will be significant, and we want to ensure that Canada is ready to be able to respond in as timely a manner as possible," Gould said Tuesday.

The Aug. 4 blast is believed to have been detonated by thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored for seven years at a portside warehouse. More than 150 people were killed in the explosion, thousands more were injured and an estimated 300,000 residents were left homeless.

Canada's additional aid was announced just hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the resignation of his government following days of angry protests. He blamed the blast on "the result of endemic corruption."

Canada has been a long-standing partner in bringing assistance to the people of Lebanon before the explosion, Gould said, including an allocation of $47 million this year alone, made through trusted partners, to address the pre-existing crisis.

"Canada will continue to be there. That's one of the reasons why we announced the additional $25 million: recognizing that the situation in Lebanon was already significantly challenged before the explosion last Tuesday, and now it's only going to be even more difficult because of this."

The country has been led by a political ruling class, made up mostly of former civil war-era leaders, and it is being blamed for incompetence and mismanagement that contributed to the explosion.

This has sparked protests of anger, which led to clashes between security forces and demonstrators Saturday in central Beirut over the weekend.

Gould said Canada is monitoring the situation on the ground, and is providing consular assistance to Canadians in Beirut, thanks to the reopening of the Canadian embassy in the Lebanese capital on Monday.

She could not provide details about Canadians in Lebanon who may want to come to Canada, citing a lack of clarity about this information at this time.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2020.

The Canadian Press