The Levant winter storm: Lebanon approves $2 million emergency funding
As Lebanon braced for another day of extreme weather, Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi went on the offensive Wednesday following accusations that preventable infrastructure failures led to severe flooding.
In response to the storm and mounting criticism of the official response, the Cabinet approved LL3 billion in additional funding for the Higher Relief Council during its session Wednesday to help those most affected.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Aridi blamed illegal construction and a lack of a political will to prevent such building for the disaster unfolding in Hay al-Sellom, where the Ghadir River burst its banks Tuesday.
“The danger will remain as long as the root causes are not addressed,” he said. “Last year the houses in Hay al-Sellom were flooded, and they will flood next year as well, because these houses are built in the path of the river.”
Aridi also slammed delays in approving the budget and warned his detractors against criticizing the ministry, saying he has “much to say about this state and the actions of certain people.”
Aridi was not the only government official to come under fire. Energy Minister Gebran Bassil was also on the defensive, telling reporters his ministry’s $600 million proposal to rehabilitate infrastructure surrounding rivers was never implemented due to lack of funding. He went on to urge striking electricity workers to return to work to restore power to the affected areas, emphasizing that Electricite du Liban was following up with the Finance Ministry to address their concerns over bonus and allowance cuts.
Wind, rain and heavy snow in some areas continued to cripple much of the country and the education minister closed schools Thursday for the third day in a row.
The most recent casualty, Mohammad Qaadaan, reportedly drowned in floodwaters near Bar Elias in the Bekaa. However, a spokesman for the Internal Security Forces who spoke to The Daily Star late Wednesday could only confirm two storm-related deaths.
North Lebanon saw heavy snowfall, especially in the mountainous Dinnieh and Bsharri regions which received as much as a meter and a half of snow in some places. Many of the mountain roads were impassable, sealing off entire villages. Local officials urged the Public Works and Transport Ministry and the Energy Ministry to move quickly to clear roads and restore power to isolated towns, some of which have been without power for several days.
Heavy rain and snow made transportation difficult throughout the Bekaa, especially in the mountains and along the Dahr al-Baidar Highway where security forces had set up checkpoints to turn drivers back.
The head of the Bar Elias municipality, Naji al-Mays, declared it an “affected area” after serious flooding left some families homeless. Local residents and officials said the flooding was caused by blocked sewers, illegal building on the banks of the nearby Litani river, and construction from what is referred to as “the Arabi highway” which is unfinished and has created a dam.
Toward the Syrian border, Maaraboun and Hamm have been cut off from the municipality of Tufail for the past two weeks due to heavy snowfall. To the west, the Deir al-Ahmar-Ainata-Yammouneh road remains closed.
Hashem Othman, head of the Baalbek municipality – large parts of which remain without power – accused EDL of using the electricity workers strike as an excuse not to respond to requests to repair the grid.