Lebanon water system on verge of collapse, says UNICEF

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French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo speaks to crew members at Beirut port as a ship unloads humanitarian aid offered by the French government to Lebanese customs. (AFP)
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Saad Hariri’s supporters block Beirut’s streets after pardoning himself from cabinet-formation. UNICEF said Friday more than 4 million people, including 1 million refugees, are at risk of losing access to safe water. (AP)
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Updated 24 July 2021

Lebanon water system on verge of collapse, says UNICEF

  • Fuel crisis threatens to close hospitals, bakeries and supermarkets
  • Lebanese life 'has returned to the Stone Age,' activists quipped on social media

BEIRUT: Shortages and the currency crunch in Lebanon could lead to a collapse of the main water supply in Lebanon within weeks, UNICEF has warned.

“More than 4 million people, including 1 million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon,” it said.

Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF representative in Lebanon, said the water sector was being “squeezed to destruction by the current economic crisis.”

“A loss of access to the public water supply could force households to make extremely difficult decisions regarding their basic water, sanitation and hygiene needs.”

Officials believe the water sector was “unable to function due to the dollarized maintenance costs, water loss, the parallel collapse of the power grid and the threat of rising fuel costs.”

With the rapidly escalating economic crisis and shortages of funding, fuel and supplies such as chlorine and spare parts, UNICEF estimates that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks.

BACKGROUND

Lebanon is experiencing a shortage of essential fuel as the Banque du Liban’s dollar reserves are depleted.

It fears that if the public water supply system collapses water costs could rise by 200 per cent a month to secure water from alternative or private water suppliers.

The UNICEF warning comes at a time when diesel supplies have reached an all-time low.

Protesters have blocked public roads because of diesel shortages, which might threaten health services and food supplies.

The shortages could lead to protests in vital sectors that depend on diesel for generating electric power.

Generator owners meeting in Greater Beirut announced that “they will shut down their generators until they can secure diesel fuel at the official price.”

People were subjected to darkness recently when the owners of the generators began harsh generator cuts due to diesel shortages.

Lebanese life “has returned to the Stone Age,” activists quipped on social media.

Since the end of 2019, Lebanon has faced an unprecedented economic collapse, which the World Bank classifies as “among the worst in the world since the mid-19th century.” More than half of Lebanon’s population is below the poverty line.

Lebanon is experiencing a shortage of essential fuel as the Banque du Liban’s dollar reserves are depleted, although it has lifted subsidies on dozens of items. The bank also delayed the opening of import credits.

For nearly a year, political parties have not been able to agree on the formation of a government that can save the country through reforms required by the international community to help the country.

The Directorate General of Oil affiliated to the Ministry of Energy urged fuel companies on Friday to “allocate quantities of their diesel stocks to meet the needs of hospitals to prevent any humanitarian disaster.”

The directorate called on the central bank to have mercy on the country and citizens and speed up the opening of diesel oil credits with gasoline and diesel levels reaching red zones.

The Lebanese Army gave hospitals some of their diesel stockpiles last week.

“The diesel crisis is very big and opening credits is no longer enough to cater for the market’s needs,” said George Brax, a member of Gas Station Owners’ Syndicate.

He stressed that the solution would be to remove subsidies once and for all, as has happened for some medicines and industrial goods.

Brax feared reaching a stage when “we will not be able to import fuel anymore.”

Residents of buildings in upscale neighborhoods in Beirut told Arab News that they had resorted to buying diesel on the black market so that they could light their homes and refrigerators even if this was at great cost.

However, some decided to reduce energy consumption so that diesel stocks could last longer.

The Supermarket Owners’ Syndicate warned against “diesel outages because many food items need refrigerators and relatively low temperatures. Power outages will inevitably harm food safety.”

Hani Bohsali, head of Syndicate of Food Importers in Lebanon, feared that “people will resort to eating cereals and canned food only because we have already reached rock bottom.”

The Syndicate of Bakery Owners warned that resorting to the black market for diesel supplies would raise the price of the bread.

It called on the General Directorate of Oil to avoid the crisis and secure diesel for bakeries before Monday. Otherwise, the bakeries would be forced to close their doors, the syndicate said.

The growing black market, without any effective official sanction, has spread to medicine as well, as pharmacies intermittently strike to protest against the failure to import medicines.

The importers in turn are waiting for the central bank to settle the previous bills with pharmaceutical companies abroad.


East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

Updated 53 min 22 sec ago

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

  • The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus
  • The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad

CAIRO: Forces loyal to a powerful Libyan commander said two military planes crashed on Sunday over a village in eastern Libya, killing at least two officers.
The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus, 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of the city of Benghazi.
A two-officer crew, including Brig. Gen. Bouzied Al-Barrasi, was killed in the crash, while the second helicopter crew survived, the forces said in a brief statement. It did not give the cause of the crash and said the helicopters were on a military mission.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, mourned the two officers.
Haftar’s forces control eastern and most of southern Libya. The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad.
The clashes erupted last week and could further destabilize the wider Sahel region, after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed in April in battels between his government and Chadian rebels.


Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

Updated 19 September 2021

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

  • Meeting was “to increase coordination in the field of border security”: Hala Akhbar news site
  • Petra said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border situation in southern Syria and fighting terrorism

AMMAN: Syria’s defense minister met Sunday with Jordan’s army chief in Amman after after Syrian troops captured several rebel-held areas near Jordan’s border, state media reported.
The Hala Akhbar news site, which is linked to Jordan’s military, reported that the meeting between Jordanian Gen. Yousef Huneiti and Syrian Gen. Ali Ayoub was “to increase coordination in the field of border security to serve the interests of the two brotherly countries.”
The recent push by Syrian troops in the country’s south is the biggest since government forces captured wide areas along the border in 2018, including the Nassib border crossing.
The crossing with Jordan was reopened in 2018, months after it fell under Syrian government control. Syrian rebels had seized the site in 2015, severing a lifeline for the government in Damascus and disrupting a major trade route linking Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the oil-rich Gulf countries.
Ayoub’s visit came nearly two weeks after Syrian forces entered the rebel-held district of the volatile southern city of Daraa as part of a truce negotiated by Russia to end weeks of fighting. In the days that followed, Syrian troops captured rebel-held parts of several villages near Daraa.
The latest push by Syrian troops brings all parts of southern Syria under full government control.
Petra, Jordan’s state news agency, said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border security, the situation in southern Syria, fighting terrorism and confronting narcotics smuggling.
Syrian state TV said the visit came at the invitation of Jordan’s army commander, adding that Ayoub was accompanied by top army officers. It said the talks focused on “fighting terrorism and border control.”
Jordan is a close Western ally and has long been seen as an island of stability in the turbulent Mideast. The kingdom hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees.
Earlier this month, ministers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt said after meeting in Amman that Egyptian natural gas should reach Lebanon through Jordan and Syria as soon as next month, after maintenance of pipelines and the review of a deal interrupted 10 years ago.

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TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

Updated 19 September 2021

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

  • The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday
  • Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty

DUBAI: A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Hezbollah movement, constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Iran-aligned group says the shipments should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday.
Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.


Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Updated 19 September 2021

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

  • A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums
  • Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19

TEHRAN: Iran reopened museums in Tehran and other cities Sunday after a more than year-long closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Museums in Tehran and other large cities that are no longer red-coded, meaning the risk of contracting the virus was very high, reopened on Sunday,” the director of Iran’s museums, Mohammad-Reza Kargar, said.
“Tourists and visitors are welcome to return while observing (sanitary) measures.”
A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums, including 170 in the capital.
“We are absolutely delighted, and we think the people are too because they were fed up with staying home, and visiting museums improves their mood,” Kargar said in his tourism and heritage ministry office.
“We have safety protocols in place of course, and the number of visitors will be dependent on the space at our sites so the public stays safe and healthy.”
Kargar said only students, researchers and staff were allowed into museums during the past 14 months.
Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19 that forced museums to close in May 2020.
On Sunday, the National Museum of Iran with its magnificent collection of treasures dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages was still deserted.
“We have to wait for the news to spread and schools to reopen for people to come back,” explained Firouzeh Sepidnameh, head of the museum’s pre-Islamic collections.
Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, has confirmed more than 5.4 million cases of coronavirus, including 117,000 deaths, according to figures issued Sunday by the health ministry.
Out of a population of 83 million, 29 million Iranians have received a first dose of vaccination and almost 14 million have been fully vaccinated against the virus.


Former Algerian president Bouteflika given state funeral

Updated 19 September 2021

Former Algerian president Bouteflika given state funeral

  • Bouteflika passed away on Friday aged 84, having lived as a recluse since he was forced from power
  • State television announced that Bouteflika would be laid to rest at El-Alia cemetery, east of Algiers

ALGIERS: Former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, ousted in 2019 after mass protests, was given a state funeral on Sunday attended by senior officials but received little of the attention given to such occasions in the past.
Bouteflika died on Friday, aged 84. An armoured vehicle decked with flowers pulled his coffin, covered with the national flag, on a gun carriage from his home in Zeralda, west of the capital, to the Al-Alia cemetery in Algiers where five of his predecessors are buried.
Bouteflika was first elected in 1999, and is widely credited with a national reconciliation policy that restored peace after a war with armed Islamists in the 1990s killed an estimated 200,000 people.
But many Algerians blame him for the economic stagnation of his latter years in power, when he was rarely seen in public after suffering a stroke, and widespread corruption led to the looting of tens of billions of dollars from a state that depends heavily on its large gas and oil reserves.
He stepped down in April 2019 after mass demonstrations to reject his plan to seek a fifth term, and demand political and economic reforms.
As well as Bouteflika's family, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who laid a wreath of flowers on the tomb, and many ministers of the current government and military officers, including army chief of staff Lieutenant-General Said Chenegriha, were among the mourners.


Attendees also included foreign diplomats in Algiers.
The French presidency on Sunday described Bouteflika as "a major figure in the contemporary history of Algeria", adding that he embodied the foreign policy of Algeria.
"The President of the Republic sends his condolences to the Algerian people and remains committed to developing close relations of esteem and friendship between the French people and Algerian people," the French presidency said in a statement.
But state media gave little attention to the funeral, and state television did not broadcast live pictures of the burial ceremony, as it has the funerals of past presidents. It later showed recorded footage.
Until 2014, Bouteflika was able to use the export earnings from high energy prices to pay off foreign debt and keep spending on subsidies at high levels to avoid social unrest.
"The years of Bouteflika's rule were a good period. He accomplished major projects, rid the country of foreign debt and brought back peace," said schoolteacher Mohamed Hachi.
But his stroke, and a decline in energy prices, ushered in a more difficult time.
"Bouteflika's period witnessed a terrible spread of corruption that the public couldn't see until after he was forced out of power," said state bank employee Djamel Harchi.
Several former senior officials, including prime ministers, ministers and army generals, have been jailed for corruption since Bouteflika resigned in April 2019 under pressure from a protest movement known as Hirak.
Thousands of members of the leaderless movement continued to take to the streets every week until authorities banned rallies because of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
Bouteflika was a fighter in the 1954-1962 war that ended French colonial rule.
He became Algeria's first foreign minister and one of the forces behind the Non-Aligned Movement, which gave a global voice to many of the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.