Beirut port explosionUnited States President Joe Biden pledged $100 million in aid to Lebanon on the one-year anniversary of the Beirut explosion. On the evening of August 4, 2020, more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the port of Beirut. More than 200 people died as a result of the tragedy, thousands more suffered injuries and 80,000 children lost their homes. A year later, the Lebanese people continue to grapple with the shattering of their capital and families are seeking some form of justice. As Beirut continues on the road to recovery, a global leader investing in Lebanon is a step in the right direction.

Lebanese Government Culpability

After the initial shock of the explosion, the Lebanese people searched for explanations as to why the disaster occurred. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) compiled with the assistance of “investigative journalists and independent researchers,” Lebanon’s leaders were in fact aware of the precarious storage of the explosives. The leaders, including the president and prime minister, allegedly did not take the steps necessary to stow the ammonium nitrate properly. Moreover, HRW declared that evidence “strongly suggests” that some Lebanese government officials anticipated the potential destruction from the ammonium nitrate’s storage and “tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring.” Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned after the outrage surrounding the Lebanese government’s alleged implication.  A year after his resignation, there have been no prosecutions issued and no Lebanese senior politicians have taken responsibility for the tragedy.

Grassroots Support in Beirut

According to HRW, the explosion damaged 77,000 Beirut apartments and displaced more than 300,000 people. Coupled with the business shutdowns and economic uncertainty produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lebanon is facing the “most severe economic crisis in its modern history.” Consequently, 55% of Lebanese people currently live below the poverty line. Without the support of the Lebanese government, Beirut has had to rely on the resilience of its people to recover. In particular, women-led organizations play a vital role in the city’s initial recovery efforts. Grassroots organizations including Live Love Lebanon, Stand for Women and the Lebanese Democratic Women’s Gathering are significantly helping to aid victims. The organizations have helped clean the streets and remove debris. In addition, U.N. Women is partnering with these organizations to aid the recovery of women-owned businesses.

The Need for Internal Reform

In addition to the $100 million pledge, Biden conveyed his condolences to the families who lost loved ones. He also urges other global leaders to “step up their support for Lebanese people.” Moreover, Biden explains that Beirut’s economic recovery largely depends on the Lebanese leaders’ dismantling of the country’s political corruption. Although Biden affirms that the United States will “be here every step of the way” to support the Lebanese government’s efforts to create a stronger future for the Lebanese people, he notes that unless Lebanese leaders commit to reform, no outside aid will be truly effective.

From the Syrian humanitarian crisis to the Beirut blast, the United States asserts its position as a global leader by assisting vulnerable people across the world in their most dire times of need. With further support from the international community, hope is on the horizon for the full recovery of Lebanon.

– Madeline Murphy
Photo: Unsplash

Global COVID-19 Response
President Joe Biden’s selection of Dr. Rochelle Walensky to run the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be instrumental in strengthening the agency’s global COVID-19 response moving forward. By strengthening the agency in three key ways, Dr. Walensky will benefit the CDC’s pandemic response both at home and abroad.

3 Ways Dr. Rochelle Walensky Will Benefit COVID-19 Global Response

  1. Dr. Walensky’s previous work improving access to HIV testing brings hope that, under her leadership, the CDC will strengthen the global COVID-19 response by determining effective testing measures and increasing access to testing. Scientists continue to call for increased testing to effectively manage and control the spread of COVID-19 as the number of confirmed cases remains uncertain due to insufficient testing worldwide. Dr. Walensky has received international recognition for prior work on cost-effective HIV testing, care and prevention. Her previous research has emphasized the importance of providing treatment to those living with HIV while also highlighting the need for greater access to HIV testing in order to reduce the spread of the disease. Given Dr. Walensky’s knowledge and experience demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of increased access to HIV testing, expectations have determined that she will similarly advocate for more accurate COVID-19 testing as the head of the CDC.
  2. A study by Dr. Walensky and other researchers demonstrates the need for greater investments in overall vaccine distribution if countries hope to control the spread of the coronavirus through immunization. While Dr. Walensky’s expertise in HIV prevention will prove to be essential as COVID-19 vaccines become available, growing concerns exist regarding vaccine distribution in low-income countries. The wealthiest countries have purchased the two leading COVID-19 vaccines, threatening to delay access to vaccines in poorer nations. This situation could be devastating for developed and developing countries alike, as even countries that achieve herd immunity could be vulnerable to outbreaks if the world’s poorest countries do not bring the virus under control. While the researchers’ research centers on vaccine distribution within the United States, the concerns they present apply to vaccine distribution in developing countries, where proper investments in vaccination campaigns will be necessary to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines to all people. By placing these concerns at the forefront of vaccine distribution, the CDC under Dr. Walensky will benefit the agency’s ability to assist vaccination campaigns internationally.
  3. Dr. Walensky’s colleagues and mentors have praised her for her ability to bring cultural sensitivity to her work, a practice that will endure as she leads the CDC. Her previous work has equipped Dr. Walensky with the experience necessary to provide tailored knowledge and COVID-19 support to developing countries within the respective contexts. With limited COVID-19 funding, the CDC will benefit from Dr. Walensky’s guidance, as she recognizes the importance of addressing underlying factors that contribute to the spread of COVID-19, including poverty and the living conditions of the impoverished. Additionally, others know her for her effective communication within underserved and marginalized communities.  By improving adherence to CDC guidelines in communities that have historically experienced exclusion or mistreatment by Western medical professionals, Dr. Walensky will further benefit the CDC’s response.

Although the CDC has previously lacked in its ability to respond to the pandemic both domestically and internationally, Dr. Walensky’s leadership will benefit the global COVID-19 response by strengthening the agency’s focus on adequately combating the virus globally. Her prior experience and research insights will help shine a light on those at risk of being left behind.

– Emely Recinos
Photo: Flickr

Biden's USAID Chief
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the U.S.’s federal agency for fighting international poverty. Now, many are interested in learning about Biden’s USAID chief candidates. USAID offers development assistance to countries to promote self-reliance. In 2019, the agency spent over $20 billion across 134 countries in 28 different service sectors including agriculture, basic healthcare and emergency response.

The actions of USAID are central to the U.S.’s actions on international poverty as a whole. President-Elect Joe Biden’s presidency is looming. Who he appoints as the head of USAID will be influential in shaping the agency’s actions for years to come. This role is particularly important as the world continues reeling from COVID-19. No formal nominee has been announced yet, but over the past few weeks, some have provided several names of who is on a shortlist to become Biden’s USAID Chief. These names include Ertharin Cousin, Liz Schrayer, Frederick Barton and Jeremy Konyndyk.

List of USAID Chief Candidates

  1. Ertharin Cousin: Ertharin Cousin served as executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) from 2012 to 2017. WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization. Before this, in 2009, former President Barack Obama appointed her as ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome. In this role, she represented the U.S. in international talks regarding humanitarian issues. She also has experience with domestic humanitarian issues, having served as CEO of Feeding America, an organization of 200 food banks across the U.S. As of now, she tops the shortlist and many presume her to be a favorite to become Biden’s USAID chief.
  2. Liz Schrayer: Currently, Liz Schrayer is president and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Commission, a coalition of hundreds of NGOs and businesses advocating for U.S. action and leadership through international development. She is also an advisor on multiple committees including USAID’s Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation’s Development Advisory Council. This prospective candidate for Biden’s USAID Chief has prior experience working with USAID and is another expert in the field of international development.
  3. Frederick Barton: Frederick Barton is the recent author of a 2018 book, “Peace Works – America’s Unifying Role in a Turbulent World.” He has experience as the U.S. Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in New York from 2009 to 2011. He also served as an advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies from 2002 to 2009. He has a long history of work in the field, having been USAID’s founding director of its Office of Transition Initiatives in 1994, serving until 1999.
  4. Jeremy Konyndyk: Jeremy Konyndyk also has prior experience with USAID, having served as director of its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance from 2013 to 2017. In this role, he oversaw a team of 600 staff. He and his staff managed responses to disasters like the West African Ebola outbreak and the ongoing Syrian civil war. Konyndyk is currently on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee. He also served in the past as an advisor to the WHO Director-General.

Conclusion

Each of the above candidates is well qualified to become Biden’s USAID chief. Although no nominee has received an announcement yet, the future of the U.S.’s largest organization fighting international poverty seems to be in good hands.

– Bradley Cisternino
Photo: Flickr

Joe Biden’s Stance on Foreign Policy
Former Vice President Joe Biden recently announced his candidacy for the 2020 Presidential campaign. Biden served as V.P. from 2009 to 2016 under the 47th President of the United States, Barack Obama. His political career in Congress began in 1973 where he served as Senator of Delaware and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He has the most foreign affairs experience out of all the candidates for President. Joe Biden’s stance on foreign policy gives insight into how he will act if the American people elect him to the seat of President.

Joe Biden’s stance on foreign policy does not align with traditional principles of the Democratic party. He has been quoted as saying that despite the difficulty and cost, the United States must be the global leader in foreign policy initiatives. He is the standout favorite of the Democratic candidates, not only because of his experience, but also his moderate position on key political issues like foreign policy.

A Question of Priorities

Although Joe Biden’s stance on foreign policy demonstrates that he is willing to address global poverty, it is unclear if it is one of his top priorities. His legislative history includes co-sponsoring a bill to eradicate extreme global poverty for the more than a billion people. The strategy developed by the bill was to halve the number of those living on less than a dollar a day by 2015. This effort points to Biden’s recognition of the immediate need to improve living conditions for the world’s poorest through U.S. intervention.

Global Economics and Trade

In a 2016 speech, Biden touted the immense value of foreign trade to the global economy. He promoted selling more products and services abroad, where the vast majority of the world’s consumers reside. The World Bank estimates that about 82 percent of the world’s population is poor. Although those who live in extreme poverty do not currently have the purchasing power to buy American products and services, the potential is still there, should their economic situation improve. Biden’s stance on foreign policy recognizes that small consumers are still consumers and if the U.S. focuses on improving trading relationships and increasing foreign aid, the American economy will benefit greatly.

Outside of Partisan Politics

Joe Biden’s stance on foreign policy does not directly align with either Democrats or Republicans. He remarked that Republicans lacked strategy and Democrats were not tough enough when it came to foreign policy. Biden is generally dovish on foreign policy and values the importance of dialogue with all countries, prior to the use of military force. Biden is also a strong proponent of supplying foreign aid to countries in need. In 1999, he voted down a bill to cap foreign aid at $12.7 billion and rather sees a need to increase aid spending to developing countries. Among other bills that Biden supported while in Congress was a multi-year commitment in 2001 to supply food and medicine to Africa.

The Big Issues

Overall, Joe Biden’s stance on foreign policy demonstrates that he values peaceful compromises and nonviolent negotiation tactics. He also has a strong record of supporting foreign aid assistance to developing nations. International aid proponents will closely monitor Biden’ statements during his presidential campaign regarding foreign policy and extreme poverty overseas.

Jessica Haidet
Photo: Flickr