Remarks by Walid Maalouf
Director, Public Diplomacy for Middle Eastern & MEPI Affairs
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Saturday, May 20, 2006
A new Lebanon is being born right before our eyes. The unity that prevailed following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri among all Lebanese factions, the withdrawal of the Syrian army, the election of a new parliament and now the national dialogue among the various Lebanese leaders should lead Lebanon to a brighter future.
Today we are meeting to define development strategies and initiatives essential to making new Lebanon a vibrant and sustainable technology hub in the region. The U.S. Government through its agencies, including USAID, is ready and willing to help guide the Lebanon into this new area. But the government can't do it alone. We need your help. That is why this conference is so important.
Historical background: The United States Agency for International Development was founded in 1961 but its predecessor agencies began operating in Lebanon in 1951; however our current series of programs began in the 1990s. The USAID Mission in Lebanon strives to help nurture the right environment for the Lebanese people to promote sound economic opportunities, political governance, environmental health, peace and stability.
USAID's current investments in Lebanon are rewarding not only for the Lebanese but also for America by giving us the opportunity to be partners in the creation of this new Lebanon.
USAID works to strengthen and create jobs in three sectors: agriculture and agricultural businesses, information and communications technology and rural tourism.
We train farmers in organic farming techniques, improve links between growers, processors and retailers, and provide training to farmers in marketing and branding. To make sure rural businesses have up-to-date information on prices and markets, USAID funds Internet and computer access centers.
To revive tourism, USAID trains hospitality workers at hotels and renovates historical and archeological sites, such as the water mill in Ain Zhalta, Mount Hermon and Chebaa. As Lebanon seeks membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), USAID provides technical assistance and training along with an understanding of the various laws, policies and regulations needed for WTO membership. USAID helps survivors of landmines and their families lead productive lives, providing them with a resource center that provides them with an opportunity to once again become productive citizens.
USAID strengthens four American educational institutions in Lebanon - the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University, the International College and the American Community School by providing scholarship assistance and supporting their capacity-building programs. USAID's small awards program targets Lebanese organizations working in fields such as humanitarian assistance, charity, health and orphan care.
USAID has worked with local governments, providing training and technical assistance on planning and budgeting to help them better serve their constituents. Part of this effort is strengthening the administration of municipalities and encouraging citizens to participate in public decisions. USAID also assists parliamentary regulatory boards be more responsive to people's needs and funds civil society organizations that speak out in favor of transparency, accountability, good governance and open business practices.
USAID has worked with four water authorities and community organizations to change the way Lebanese think about the environment. Part of the program involves using better technologies to dispose of waste and improve the laws that govern water use. USAID encourages private businesses to enter the water industry. At the national level we work to strengthen water policies and at the local level, USAID works to strengthen Lebanon's water authorities. We also works to implement small-scale waste management (both solid waste and waste water treatment) projects appropriate for small communities. Most of our activities are carried out through non-governmental organizations, civil society groups, universities, municipalities and contractors.
Our future plans and objectives are to remain engaged in helping Lebanon and the Lebanese people advance on all those fronts and catch up with the world's advancing technologies. There are many challenges and with the help and participation of the members of this conference we should be able to overcome them and make Lebanon a happier, more prosperous and stable country.
To name some of our plans, we want to continue working to revitalize Lebanon's economy with an emphasis on those communities that suffer from social disruption and economic stagnation reflected in the complex and often divisive web of political, confessional, and regional interests.
We want to improve private sector competitiveness by supporting innovative ideas that promote the tourism and ICT sectors with the purpose of reducing rural migration and creating job opportunities within their communities. Increase agricultural sector productivity by creating jobs and increasing incomes in rural areas by developing competitive farming systems and value-added products, and by facilitating access to niche markets. We also want to strengthen the foundations for governance with a program that empowers Lebanese local government, parliament, oversight agencies, and civil society. This program improves the delivery of governmental services to citizens and municipalities, thereby enhancing the democratic nature of Lebanon's overall political system. Last but not least is the environment by advocating policy reform and demonstrating environmentally sound and appropriate solutions to environmental problems at the national and local levels. The program provides cost effective, environmentally sound solutions to solid waste and wastewater disposal problems facing rural communities.
It is crucial that the national dialogue achieves positive results in the political issues at hand and so that Lebanon's security, freedom and sovereignty can be firmly re-established. When this happens the natural abilities of the Lebanese people should be able to do the rest. The Lebanese Diasporas will bring more investments in Lebanon, which result in creation of more jobs, and the economy will move forward. This will allow the Lebanese people to start focusing on other pressing issues such as enhancing the rule of law, improving political processes and strengthening its democracy and freedom of expression.
We must all unite in those efforts on behalf of the Lebanese people. With unity the Lebanese can claim back their Lebanon and press forward with healthy economy, sophisticated technology where every Lebanese man and woman has an equal opportunity to be productive, happy and free.
Thank you and God bless Lebanon and the United States of America.