A generation has grown up with images of Lebanon that included constant turmoil. In that context, it is all too easy to forget that Lebanon was once one of the premier vacation destinations for Europeans visiting the region. Once known as the Switzerland of the Middle East, today, Lebanon is a tattered shell of what it once was. And it is getting worse.
This month the head of one of the country’s security forces called upon Lebanon’s General Security Staff to prepare for the chaos that would follow if the nation collapses. In a message to his leading generals, Major-General Abbas Ibrahim wrote, “The crisis that Lebanon is going through may be prolonged. Your duty is steadfastness and standing as a barrier to protect your country and your people.”
Like the rest of the world, Lebanon is struggling through the pandemic and its economic fallout. The country has more than 600,000 confirmed cases and over 8,000 deaths. Both of those numbers are likely much higher, but the county cannot properly track or treat symptoms of the virus due to the disintegrating state of the nation’s healthcare system.
The coronavirus pandemic, regional geopolitical tensions, and other crises which the rest of the world is confronting are mere background noise to the more immediate emergencies afflicting Lebanon today. The nation is on the verge of collapse!
Citizens with the means are fleeing the country. Citizens without the means have publicly wished that an outside power would invade and occupy their country simply so they could have dependable food and water.
Lebanon’s Economic Crisis
The World Bank recently said Lebanon’s increasingly likely financial collapse could rank among the worst the world has witnessed since the mid 19th century.
Inflation is skyrocketing in the country. Nearly overnight, the average Lebanese citizen has watched their life savings dissolve into nothing as the value of the Lebanese pound imploded.
The people of Lebanon are being hit from both sides. While supply issues have caused the price of nearly everything needed for daily life to go up, the value of the Lebanese pound has gone down. The Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value in the last two years while prices quadrupled. Annual inflation in 2020 reached nearly 85%.
An analysis from the aid organization Save the Children found many families in Lebanon have resorted to cutting back on food, education, and medical expenses, selling furniture, or taking on crippling debt. Meat has been cut from most diets simply because it is no longer affordable. Families are forced to choose between purchasing fuel for their energy needs or food. They can no longer afford both.
Lebanon’s Fuel Crisis
The country’s power grid has long passed any sense of dependability. The national electric company relies upon rolling blackouts to meet the country’s needs. Today, that supply amounts to the national grid supplying one hour of electric power per day for most homes and businesses.
Most citizens in Lebanon rely upon personal generators to power their homes and energy needs. Even that ragtag system is failing as fuel shortages have spawned long lines where most customers now find the supply has run out.
The government once subsidized fuel prices, but that has come to an end. Today, Lebanese citizens pay one of the highest prices for fuel in the world. The price for a gallon of fuel has increased by 220% in the last year triggering buying panic and a black market – both of which further drain the country’s limited fuel supply. A person in Lebanon now pays an average of $16 for a gallon of gas, $12.39 for diesel. The generators run on diesel.
Even hospitals, also relying on generators for their power needs, cannot secure adequate fuel supplies.
Lebanon’s Healthcare Crisis
People can no longer afford medications much of the rest of the world takes for granted. People diagnosed with anxiety, pain, or blood pressure discover their required medications are no longer provided at Lebanon’s pharmacy even if they could afford the purchase.
The collapse of the nation’s healthcare system has led to nurses and doctors leaving the country in hopes of finding work and provision for their families elsewhere. Some of the nation’s largest hospitals have seen half their nursing staff leave in the last year, and there is no replacement for that lost workforce.
Coronavirus cases are rising, but so are cases of food poisoning as families lack the electrical power to refrigerate foods. Experts warn of a looming healthcare disaster as the weight of all the other emergencies facing Lebanon crush down upon what remains of the healthcare system.
Lebanon’s Water Crisis
The Executive Director of UNICEF warned that due to the fuel crisis in Lebanon, water pumping has slowed or halted entirely in many areas. In the next four to six weeks, more than four million people in Lebanon will face critical water shortages.
The poor will face the coming water crisis first and that demographic among Lebanon’s population. Many fail to recognize that Lebanon frequently hosts the bulk of the Middle East’s refugees when unrest stirs from Israel to Syria to Iraq. The largest per capita Syrian refugee population in the world resides in Lebanon.
In July, the North Lebanon Water Establishment announced a state of emergency and began rationing water supplies. That state of emergency spread to the Bekaa Water Establishment as power outages shut down pumping stations. At least 70% of the country is days away from critical water shortages. UNICEF estimates that securing water from alternative and private sources could increase water costs by 200%.
Spiraling Protest and Violence
Before the pandemic began, Lebanon was a central location to the growing youth protests emerging among struggling societies worldwide. The pandemic lockdowns briefly paused that movement in Lebanon, but they are back with a new level of ferocity in the last few months.
In the face of government inaction and growing crises at all levels of Lebanese society, the protests are becoming increasingly violent. Earlier this month, tensions over scarce fuel supplies in Beirut boiled over into a fight involving guns, knives – and even a hand grenade. Many fear the growing national desperation will push the tensions and frustrations into an open societal breakdown.
Lebanon’s Political Crisis
After the devastating port explosion in August 2020, the country’s government resigned. Since that time, various millionaires and political elites have attempted three attempts to form a government. Each of those attempts has failed. For all intents and purposes, Lebanon has not had a working government for the last year.
The cascade of crises confronting the country is not endemic to Lebanon. It results from decades of corrupt, ineffective, and incompetent government, not to mention wide-ranging interference from outside powers, including the US, France, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel.
This is the state of Lebanon confronting a cascade of crises that may soon topple the once formidable nation.