Why nations rush to save Lebanon

The massive foreign aid flowing to post-explosion Lebanon will bypass a corrupt regime, sending a signal of good governance for a fragile state.

Protesters celebrate after removing a barrier to the parliament building Aug. 10.

Leaders of nearly 30 countries met virtually on Sunday to fill a vacuum of governance in one of the world’s most fragile states. They agreed to provide aid to Lebanon, just days after a giant explosion rocked the capital. The speed of the humanitarian response was impressive. So was the amount of pledged donations – nearly $300 million. But what was rare was the decision to ensure the aid directly reaches the Lebanese people with “utmost efficiency and transparency.”

Such qualities of governance have been missing for a long time in Lebanon, triggering mass protests last October. Two prime ministers have fallen since then, the latest on Aug. 10. Rather than allow the aid to flow through a disunited and corrupt bureaucracy, the donors plan to channel it through nongovernmental organizations. Spain, for example, will deliver wheat to a nonprofit. Brazil will send rice. Egypt is providing field hospitals.

“In these horrendous times, Lebanon is not alone,” concluded the statement from the Aug. 9 video conference.

The aid bypass reveals the latest chapter in the international community’s attempt to deal with a 21st-century challenge: weak states imploding from a lack of governance. To head off a potential rise in chaos, violence, famine, or exodus of refugees, the world came together quickly after the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut in an attempt to fill a vacuum of governance.

The coalition of political parties that holds power in Lebanon has been unable to pay the country’s huge debt, feed its people, provide electricity, or prevent the flow of arms to the terrorist group Hezbollah. With power divvied up between religious-based parties, Lebanon needs a touchstone for good governance. The foreign donors will be working with private groups that come with a record of legitimacy and competency.

The world order depends on preventing fragile states from becoming failed ones – places like Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. With so many Lebanese citizens clamoring for democracy based on transparency, accountability, and equality, it was easy for so many nations to respond to the crisis. The aid itself is almost secondary to the signal sent about finding the common good that helps keep the world safe.

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