Skip to Main Navigation
Statement February 14, 2021

Statement of Mr. Ferid Belhaj, Vice President of the Middle East and North Africa Region, The World Bank: Launch of the National COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign in Lebanon

As prepared for delivery

Your Excellency Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Diab,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sincere greetings from across the seas. 

Thank you very much for inviting the World Bank to be part of the launch of Lebanon’s national COVID-19 vaccination campaign. We appreciate the efforts of Lebanese experts and officials in putting together a national vaccination plan in close collaboration with the World Bank, WHO, UNICEF and others.

How I regret to be distant from you today, far from Lebanon, this graceful country which is being assailed by the worst crises in its contemporary history, adversities that have caused severe strain on its noble people.

I will never forget the years I spent in Beirut, the capital that hosted me with utmost kindness and generosity, and with the language of humanity and culture. These memories will forever be etched in my mind. 

It saddens me to witness Beirut suffer, this city that bled and grieved on August 4, a dark and tragic day that shook the entire world.

Despite its sorrow, Beirut remains the capital of resilience. The capital of life and coexistence. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world has been facing the most severe pandemic since Second World War II, a pandemic that changed the course and fate of the world, claimed many lives, and continues to deprive us from our loved ones.

Today, Lebanon is grappling to deal with the pandemic with limited capabilities, while it confronts the most severe economic, financial and social hardships. 

Poverty spiraled to alarming levels within less than a year to reach 45% of the population, while 22% of the Lebanese are living below the extreme poverty line. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically surged in the country over the recent months, with the total number of cases exceeding 300 thousand, and regrettably, over 3,800 deaths. This has compounded the strain on the health sector, which already tolerated massive destruction caused by the tragic Port of Beirut explosion. 

The World Bank has always been by Lebanon's side, listening to the demands of its people and providing the necessary support to meet its immediate as well as long-term needs. The entire world witnessed how the Lebanese people generously welcomed the displaced Syrians, who now constitute almost a third of the population. Since the onset of the Syrian refugee crisis, the World Bank has embarked on securing the necessary support to help Lebanon deal with this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The world testifies that what the Lebanese have offered to the displaced Syrians represents a valuable lesson in humanity.

In order to help address the COVID-19 pandemic and with the aim of saving lives, the World Bank has re-allocated USD 34 million under the existing Lebanon Health Resilience Project to help Lebanon procure COVID-19 vaccines and start a national vaccination campaign that will target two million Lebanese and non-Lebanese. The Bank’s Board of Directors approved this urgent initiative in record time, allowing the Lebanese Government to purchase the vaccines within 48 hours, rendering Lebanon the first country to benefit from such an initiative at the Bank’s level.

In the past few hours, Lebanon received the first batch of vaccine doses. The World Bank insists on adopting the highest standards of transparency in managing the national vaccination campaign. Under the national plan, which is based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization, the priority now is to vaccinate health workers who risk their lives every day to save the infected; the elderly over 65 years of age, and people suffering from chronic diseases within a specific age group. We call upon everyone in Lebanon to register through the dedicated platform and await their turn, regardless of their job rank or political affiliation. Credibility and transparency are the two fundamental elements in all World Bank financed programs and projects around the world, without any exceptions. And let me say it very clearly: “There will be no wasta”.

The World Bank will continue to monitor the implementation of the national vaccination campaign. Further, under a contract with the World Bank, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will follow up and monitor the course of vaccination, the extent of adherence to the national plan and international standards. The World Bank, in consultation with the relevant UN partners, established a joint international monitoring committee to follow-up on the roll-out of the vaccination, and to determine the necessary measures to enhance the quality of the campaign during the entire period of implementation.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have repeatedly stressed, and we hereby reiterate, the necessity of implementing urgent reforms in order to restore Lebanon’s economic stability, build confidence, stimulate growth, and reposition the country on the map of advancement, for the noble aim of serving mankind and humanity.

Lebanon is the most precious heritage placed in your hands,” wrote the great poet Gibran Khalil Gibran. We urge you to safeguard it with your life.

Thank you.