Countries including Britain pledged to donate “major resources” to help rebuild Beirut after Tuesday’s blast, saying any aid will be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population” amid growing anger over government corruption.
The push for aid came as Emmanuel Macron, the French president, warned that the future of the nation hung in the balance in the wake of the explosion, which demolished half of its capital city.
“The August 4 explosion sounded like a thunderclap. The time for awakening and action has come,” Mr Macron said, opening the international aid summit. Political and economic reforms, he added, would allow “the international community to act effectively alongside Lebanon for reconstruction … It is the future of Lebanon that is at stake.”
Britain pledged an extra £20m in aid for the stricken city on top of £5m already promised, via the UN’s World Food Programme.
Mr Macron reiterated calls for an independent, impartial inquiry into the causes of the disaster, echoed shortly after the conference by Donald Trump, the US president.
Mr Trump “urged the Government of Lebanon to conduct a full and transparent investigation, in which the United States stands ready to assist,” the White House said in a statement.
However, Michel Aoun, the president of Lebanon, has been quick to quash the prospect of an international investigation, calling it a “waste of time.” Mr Aoun has instead thrown his weight behind a domestic investigation.
Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as anti-government protesters, have little faith in the government to conduct its own independent investigations.
“There’s no trust. The trust has gone completely between the people and this state,” retired army general Georges Nader, who led a brief civilian takeover of Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday, told the Daily Telegraph.
The donation of aid to Lebanon is a highly politicised issue. A commonly repeated refrain from the streets of Beirut, as volunteers stepped in to organise clean up operations, is that money should not go to the government, which they say created the conditions for Tuesday’s blast through corruption and negligence.
The explosion was caused when 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate ignited after sitting in a warehouse at Beirut’s port, causing massive destruction to swathes of downtown Beirut.
“I guarantee you, this aid will not go to corrupt hands,” Mr Macron said to crowds greeting him during a visit to the city on Thursday.
Equally, some foreign governments – foremost among them Mr Trump’s administration – are sceptical of writing blank cheques to a government seen to be under the influence of Iran, via its local proxy Hizbollah.
As a result, much of the aid pledged at Sunday’s conference is going through third party organisations, both international and local.