Lebanon receives multimillion dollar Chinese donation
Lebanon received a multimillion-dollar donation from China to install solar energy for the country’s beleaguered internet provider, the Ministry of Telecommunications said on Tuesday.
Ogero, the state-owned telecommunications service, is to gain over $8 million to supply more than 830 of Ogero’s sites with solar energy panels, following years of electricity shortages which have beset the country’s internet and phone services.
“The Ministry, Ogero, and the rest of the telecommunications sector, since the beginning of the financial and economic crisis that befell the country, has been facing many major challenges which have been a struggle to address, including the collapse of the national currency and power outages,” a statement from the ministry read.
“After diligent work, the Ministry of Telecommunications and the Ogero Authority obtained a Chinese donation worth more than 8 million US dollars to supply more than 380 sites for the Authority with clean solar energy.”
The solar energy project is expected to be operating by summer 2024 while a campaign will be launched in the upcoming days to collect donations in order to secure necessary credits from the central bank, the statement said.
But with its output tied to the collapsed national grid Électricité du Liban (EDL) - itself unable to produce more than three or four hours of power daily - there have been major outages for landline, mobile and internet users since the onset of the crisis in 2019.
Last year, Ogero’s director said the company had been forced to run services using backup generators as a result of EDL’s poor power supply.
Government administrations, hospitals, military facilities and universities have all faced severe connection problems.
Just this week, residents of villages in southern Lebanon complained of a two-day internet blackout which disrupted businesses and communication.
In addition, intermittent employee strikes at Ogero have caused further disruption with workers demanding wage increases and transportation support in light of the drastic devaluation of the Lebanese pound.
Earlier this month, Caretaker Telecommunications Minister Jonny Corms told Lebanese daily L'Orient-Le Jour he had requested that a portion of the Iraqi diesel fuel, imported as part of a barter deal with Baghdad to supply EDL, be allocated for Ogero’s services.
The move towards solar energy for Lebanon would be one of the first government green energy actions to address the failing electricity sector, which has seen a growing number of homes, hospitals and businesses forced to install solar photovoltaic panels to access a sufficient power supply.
"The soaring demand for solar installations... explains where the country could potentially be heading in terms of renewable and clean energy."@Rodayna_462 examines how Lebanon's electricity crisis sparked a solar power revolution⬇ https://t.co/GUBlC71BYQ— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) October 5, 2022
However, the donation will likely spark concern among certain parties regarding Chinese involvement in the country’s communications sector.
The United States, for example, has sought to crackdown over the apparent influence of the Chinese government in its telecoms firms and has previously criticised calls in Lebanon for more Chinese involvement in the country's infrastructure projects.
In 2021, the Federal Comuncation’s Commmission banned a handful of Chinese telecom companies, including the multinational Huawei Technologies, citing the “unacceptable risk” to US national security.
While China is not traditionally regarded as one of Lebanon’s close partners, both parties are keen to step up exchanges and last year signed an agreement to allow visa exemptions for certain citizens.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Lebanon was one of the earliest countries to receive China’s Sinopharm vaccine in a donation from the Chinese embassy.