President Hollande, President Sleiman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, I would like to thank President Hollande for hosting this meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon. France has long been one of Lebanon’s most important and faithful partners and continues to play a central role in support of Lebanon during this critical and volatile period for the country and the region.
The International Support Group, represented here today, was established in recognition of the increasingly dangerous impact of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon.
Following a July 2013 call by the Security Council for “strong, coordinated support to Lebanon to help it withstand the multiple challenges to its security and stability,” the Secretary-General, as you recall, convened the Group for the first time on September 25 in New York, at the ministerial level.
Since then, it has met in Beirut and New York at various levels, to mobilize support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and unity, as well as for its infrastructure and institutions and those areas where the Syrian crisis is having its greatest effect on Lebanon.
The risks to Lebanon continue to grow. The need to help the country weather this storm is greater than ever. I would like to express admiration and appreciation to President Sleiman for his leadership and efforts to uphold Lebanon’s stability and state institutions. As conflict continues unabated in Syria, the wisdom of the policy of disassociation and the commitments entered into in the Baabda Declaration, are more and more obvious. This has been immediately understood and consistently underscored by the United Nations.
We are meeting here today less than three weeks after the formation of the new Government in Lebanon under the leadership of Prime Minister Tammam Salam. I would like to reiterate today the Secretary-General’s warm welcome for this important step.
The formation of an inclusive government in the national interest sends a strong signal that Lebanese leaders across the political spectrum wish to keep Lebanon protected from the impacts of the Syrian crisis.
It shows that they are ready to work together to confront the many threats facing the country.
It will be essential for confidence-building and stability in Lebanon that the next step in the political process -- the presidential election -- is conducted successfully within the legal and constitutional timeframe.
Just as Lebanon’s leaders have come together in the face of threats, so has the international community joined hands to mobilize practical support for Lebanon and regional stability. But much remains to be done.
My colleagues will speak to the specific needs for support this afternoon. Let me here underline our appreciation for the role played by the Lebanese Armed Forces in addressing the security challenges facing Lebanon, including the threat of terrorism. The LAF is a key partner for the United Nations, working with UNIFIL to help maintain calm along the Blue Line.
The UN is grateful for the additional international assistance to the LAF, not least by several of the countries present here today. I would like to pay special tribute to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its generous contribution to strengthen the LAF capabilities. We also look forward to the conference in support of the LAF to be hosted in the near future by the Government of Italy.
The most visible consequence of the Syrian conflict in Lebanon is the presence of more than one million Syrian refugees. This is more than one-quarter of the total population of Lebanon and the highest per capita number of refugees in the world. I commend Lebanon’s generosity in receiving and hosting these refugees among its communities.
The humanitarian response for Syria is the largest ever undertaken by the UN. However, the strains on Lebanon from the refugee influx far outweigh the assistance provided by current programmes. Much more must be done by the international community to share this burden. I hope the International Support Group, in its advocacy role, will urge all potential partners to fulfil existing pledges as well as to provide greater assistance.
The Syrian conflict has had a severe negative effect on Lebanese communities and infrastructure, and on Government programmes, including health and education. The economic and social impact assessment carried out by the Government, the UN and the World Bank, in advance of our meeting last September, identified the costs.
The Government’s Roadmap for Stabilization seeks to meet these costs. Initial funding has been made available through the Multi-Donor Trust Fund. Meeting the Roadmap targets must be a key priority for donors and for the Government in the crucial period ahead.
This meeting is an opportunity to take stock of progress and to renew our strong commitment to a stable, independent and resilient Lebanon. I am confident it will also help identify concrete measures that will assist Lebanon meet the enormous challenges it faces today and move towards a secure and prosperous future.