The heartbreaking consequences of the financial crisis in Lebanon are too great for the world to ignore
The cost of the rechargeable ventilator on sale in a generally inexpensive store in Beirut was 1.4 million Lebanese lira. That’s almost $ 1,000 (£ 723) according to the official rate.
Almost $ 1,000. At the minimum wage, it’s more than two months’ salary. For one damn fan.
There is nothing special about this ventilator other than that it can run on a rechargeable battery, which is essential now, parts of Beirut have had one or two hours of electricity a day since the National Network.
Thus, it is in great demand because people suffocate in pitch darkness in the heat. It’s imported, which means it costs any dollar price, which is a lot.
The Fan is just one example of the severity of the current currency crisis in Lebanon, which the World Bank says is grappling with one of the worst economic collapse in recent history. The world body said it was particularly astounding because usually such a brutal contraction is caused by war or conflict and called it a “deliberate depression” blaming the ruling elite.
The Lebanese pound has lost almost 90% of its value since the start of last year and it continues to fall: the black market exchange rate has fallen to 17,000 lire to the dollar, although it is still officially fixed at 1,500.
In real terms, that means a fan costs almost $ 1,000 and food is too expensive for families. (Food prices have more than quadrupled in the past year).
In fact, this week, the United Nations Children’s Agency warned that nearly 80 percent of families have no food or money to buy food – in Syrian refugee households, this figure reaches 99 percent.
To put that into perspective, Lebanon has the highest number of refugees per capita in the world: there are an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in the country of just 6 million – as well as tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Earlier this year, the World Food Program had already issued warnings of famine for the country and its neighbor Syria, whose fate is inextricably linked to that of Lebanon.
But it’s not just the cost of food that leads to desperation. The country suffers from severe fuel and electricity shortages. It’s not uncommon to see people sleeping in their cars overnight at gas stations to wring out the meager drops of fuel that remain.
In Beirut and other parts of the country, households only receive one hour of electricity from the main grid. My generator bill for the last month, when I wasn’t even in the country, was 1.5 million lire, which is exactly $ 1,000 on the official purse (or $ 90 – 65 £ – on the black market).
Medicines and imported foods are also scarce. A desperate friend asked me to bring antihistamines for the children because they are impossible to find in pharmacies.
The economic crisis is based on decades of chronic mismanagement and corruption. It has only been exacerbated by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic which has affected businesses and strangled much needed remittances.
And then, in August, thousands of tons of improperly stored explosives exploded in the port of Beirut, killing more than 200 people and destroying entire swathes of the capital, further increasing the pressure.
High-level politicians, including the president, were aware of the dangerous stock but did nothing about it. The government resigned soon after, but the ruling parties failed to agree on a new cabinet – and so, for the past year, the country has been leaderless in its free fall.
One of the questions I get asked frequently is “why should the world care?” “
Apart from the very obvious and important humanitarian reasons, although it is a small Mediterranean country in difficulty, Lebanon is undoubtedly a pillar of stability in the region. For the past decade, it has been a relief valve for neighboring war-ravaged Syria – a safe haven for refugees, the vast majority of whom now live in extreme poverty and are on the front lines of a famine crisis. imminent.
The economies of the two countries are inextricably linked. Millions, if not billions of dollars of Syrian money are being deposited and now stranded in once more secure Lebanese banks that have imposed crippling restrictions for fear of capital flight and the acute tightening of hard currencies. Lebanon was once Syria’s access to the outside world. But with the dollar crisis this is no longer possible.
Lebanon, which was ravaged by a devastating civil war that lasted 15 years between 1975 and 1990, is bitterly divided between religious groups (often heavily armed), tensions that only quiver when life gets more difficult – making fear another civil conflict.
This will only further fracture the region and undoubtedly worry Israel in the south, which waged a war with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in 2006.
Violence is already breaking out sporadically. Just days ago, videos were shared on social media showing the Lebanese army withdrawing from the country’s poorest city, Tripoli, as desperate residents armed with machine guns marched through the center of the city. shooting in the air. The soldiers have finally regained control, but the Lebanese army itself is suffering from the economic crisis. The soldiers are hungry too.
The big question is not why we should care, but what we should do. And it’s difficult to answer.
The solutions are not immediately clear, but the world must not turn its back on Lebanon. Too much is at stake.