France and Saudi Arabia announced a joint development fund for crisis-hit Lebanon Tuesday, pledging an initial $30 million to support food security and the country’s crippled health sector, a French embassy statement said.
The funds will be routed to humanitarian projects to provide emergency aid, including food, to the most vulnerable populations in Lebanon, improve access to primary healthcare and to support the main public hospital in the impoverished northern city of Tripoli, the statement said.
Lebanon is in the midst of its deepest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. A 2019 financial meltdown has led the currency to crash, dragging more than half of the population into poverty and leading many to struggle to afford basics, such as food and medicine.
The announcement of the joint fund follows the return of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon earlier this month after a five-month absence sparked by a diplomatic spat between the kingdom and Lebanon over the growing influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia was previously a major donor to Lebanon, dishing out generous financial aid to political patrons and for development and reconstruction. But Saudi officials have said the kingdom saw little return on investment as Lebanon fell further into regional rival Iran’s orbit.
France has spearheaded efforts to create the joint fund as part of a push to keep Saudi Arabia engaged with Lebanon.
The initial funds will be split half-half between the French Development Agency and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.
The funds will also be used to provide cash aid benefitting some 7,500 people and baby milk for families in need, tweets from the French foreign ministry’s Arabic-language account said.
“These are indications of moral rather than significant practical support at this point,” Ali Shihabi, a Saudi political analyst, said.
“Unless substantive reforms are undertaken that include reforms in governance and substantive constraints on Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon, I do not expect any substantial material aid to be forthcoming,” he said.