Rania Mustafa’s living room recalls a not-so-distant past, when a modest salary for a security guard in Lebanon paid for air conditioning, stylish furniture, and a flat-screen TV. But as the country’s economic crisis deepened, she lost her job and saw her savings evaporate. Today, she thinks of selling furniture to pay her rent and is struggling to buy food, let alone electricity or a dentist to fix her 10-year-old daughter’s broken molar.
For dinner one recent evening, lit by a single cell phone, the family shared nice potato sandwiches donated by a neighbor. The girl only chewed on one side of her mouth to avoid the damaged tooth. “I have no idea how we are going to continue,” Mustafa, 40, said at his home in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city after the capital Beirut.
The small Mediterranean country, still haunted by a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, is experiencing a financial collapse which, according to the World Bank, can be classified as one of the worst in the world since the mid-19th century . families whose money has plummeted in value while the cost of almost everything has skyrocketed.
Since the fall of 2019 in the Northern Hemisphere (spring in Brazil), the Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value, and annual inflation in 2020 was 84.9%. The prices of consumer goods have almost quadrupled in the past two years, according to June statistics from the country’s government. A massive explosion a year ago in the port of Beirut that killed more than 200 people and left much of the capital in ruins only added to the desperation.
On Wednesday (4), Lebanon observed a day of mourning to mark the anniversary of the explosion. Government agencies and most businesses closed for the occasion. Crowds gathered across Beirut to remember the day and denounce the government, which failed to determine the cause of the explosion and who was responsible for it, let alone hold anyone responsible.
After a moment of silence on the road to the port, thousands of protesters marched towards the center of town, where some set off fireworks and threw stones near Parliament at the security forces, who retaliated by tear gas fire. The explosion has exacerbated the country’s long-standing economic crisis, and there is little relief in sight.
Years of corruption and bad policies have left the state deeply in debt and the central bank unable to continue supporting the currency, as it has for decades, due to declining foreign cash flow into the country. . Now the economy has bottomed out, leaving food, fuel and medicine shortages. All but the richest Lebanese have cut meat from their food and are lining up to refuel their cars, sweating on summer nights from long power cuts.
The country has long suffered from electricity shortages, a legacy of a state that failed to guarantee basic services. To fill the gaps left by the state’s energy supply, residents rely on private diesel-powered generators. But the currency collapse undermined this patchwork system.
As imported fuel became more expensive, power cuts to the grid went from a few hours a day to 11 p.m. As a result, the demand for energy from the generators has increased, as has the cost of fuel to run them. The resulting price hikes have transformed an essential utility for business, health and comfort into a luxury that many families can only afford in limited quantities, when they can.
Across Lebanon, fuel shortages have caused long lines at gas stations, where drivers wait hours to buy a few liters or none if the station is out of stock. The supply of drugs has also become unreliable. The state was supposed to subsidize imports, but the crisis has also affected this system.
At a Tripoli pharmacy, a line stretched from the sidewalk to the cash register, where avid shoppers searched for drugs that were once easy to obtain and are now scarce, such as for pain and blood pressure. Other products have disappeared altogether, such as drugs to treat depression. Client Wafa Khaled cursed government after failing to find insulin for her mother and paying five times more than she would have paid two years ago for baby food and seven times more for formula nutritional. “The best thing for us would be for a foreign country to come and take care of us for light, water and security,” she said.
The crisis could cause permanent damage to three sectors that have historically made Lebanon stand out in the Arab world. In what was once called the Switzerland of the Middle East, banks are largely insolvent, education has taken a hit as teachers seek better opportunities abroad and healthcare has deteriorated as low wages have caused an exodus of doctors and nurses.
The emergency room at the American University of Beirut medical center, one of the best in the country, has grown from 12 to seven doctors and has lost more than half of its 65 nurses since July 2020, said Eveline Hitti, head of division. They left because of waves of Covid-19, falling wages and the explosion in the port of Beirut last year, which filled the hospital with victims. “You ask yourself: why should I survive this? ”Said Rima Jabbour, the head nurse. Now, Covid cases are on the rise, as are poisonings caused by poorly refrigerated food and excessive alcohol consumption.
The country’s political leaders have failed to slow the economic collapse. Authorities have hampered the investigation into the port explosion, and billionaire telecommunications mogul Najib Mikati is currently the third politician to attempt to form a government since the last cabinet resigned after the explosion.
Mustafa Allouch, deputy leader of the Future Movement, a prominent political party, said, like many other Lebanese, that he feared that the political system, designed to divide power between different sects, would be unable to resolve the country’s problems. “I don’t think it will work anymore,” he said. “We have to look for another system, but I don’t know what it is.”
His greatest fear is the “indiscriminate violence” that springs from despair and anger. “Looting, shootings, attacks on houses and small businesses,” he said. “Why it hasn’t happened yet, I don’t know.”