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The Lebanese Catastrophe

As the country’s predicament worsens day after day, the social pressure to address its crisis grows stronger. Lebanon’s situation is catastrophic, with living standards constantly deteriorating. The combination of multiple crises – financial, political and of the public health – have put the nation on its feet. The circumstances seem so dire that in June, the World Bank has identified the Lebanese disaster as possibly one of the top 3 most severe crises since the 1800s. Despite the caretaker Prime Minister’s plea for help, the international community appears reluctant in offering aid, as compared to the past. Global leaders and organizations believe Lebanon’s difficulties do not stem from humanitarian issues. Instead, the deadlock’s nexus lies in the government’s inability and unwillingness to turn the country’s tide and move away from a highly corrupted and inefficient system.

Lebanon’s crisis does not stem from a conflict or a war but is instead the result of decades of political incompetence, corruption and inadequate economic policies. The nation, which according to the Lebanese Prime Minister is very close to “social explosion”, has seen its local currency losing more than 90% of its value since the beginning of last year, contributing to a fall of 95% in its purchase power. This led to an increase in unemployment and a dramatic deterioration of the citizens’ living conditions. Moreover, the population is experiencing shortages in fuel, electricity, food and medical supplies, paralyzing the area. This matter is strictly connected to the high level of corruption in the country, which controls the land’s essential services. When commenting on the lack of fuel, a European envoy has said that “(T)here is no fuel shortage. It is being kept on ships by local suppliers as a way to increase margins and it is being shipped to Syria where it is sold at higher prices than they could reach on the local markets”. Furthermore, the United Nations’ child agency has informed that almost 80% of the population is suffering from poverty, having no money to buy essential goods. The pandemic’s outbreak has further impacted the city, affecting businesses and contributing to the lack of medicines, with 80% of pharmacies in Beirut closed. In addition to the spreading of Coronavirus, the deadly explosion of the capital’s port in August of last year, has generated a political stalemate, leaving politicians unable to form a new government. Moreover, as Najat Rochdi - the United Nations’ resident and humanitarian coordinator - has noted, this event has accelerated the disastrous spiral, further plunging the region into a catastrophic situation. The expert also added that “(T)he crisis in the economy, the currency devaluation, as well as the governance vacuum, has meant a breakdown of public services at a time when they are most needed”.

After months of political impasse, at the beginning of July, the caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab has asked for international leaders’ assistance: “I appeal through you to the kings, princes, presidents and leaders of brotherly and friendly countries, and I call upon the United Nations and all international bodies, the international community, and the global public opinion to help save the Lebanese from death and prevent the demise of Lebanon”.

Even though Lebanese authorities are taking a step in the right direction and attempting to adopt a resolution that will grant half a million of households in precarious conditions a monthly check worth between $93 and $137, international entities and leaders are reluctant to offer assistance. Their unwillingness stems from the belief that months after last year’s explosion, factions have yet to come to an agreement to provide the country with political guidance, making the deadlock less connected to humanitarian reasons and more bureaucratic. For this reason, global authorities, before unlocking financial assistance, have called for Lebanon to come up with a new functioning government.

Similarly, last June, the United States’, Saudi Arabia’s and France’s representatives have asked for political action and explained “the need for Lebanon's political leaders to show real leadership by implementing overdue reforms to stabilise the economy and provide the Lebanese people with much-needed relief”. According to Saroj Kumar Jha, the regional director or the Mashreq at the World Bank, the organization had already informed politicians of Lebanon’s prospective economic difficulties. However, he observed that “there has been no response pretty much since then, and as a result you will continue to see Lebanon sinking” and added that “(T)he situation in Lebanon is purely self-inflicted; it is man-made”. Some countries, such as Qatar, have answered the plea for help and responded by vowing to supply Lebanon’s military troops with 70 tonnes of goods per month. However, the prevalent opinion seems to be that the international community is not accountable for the evolution and prosperity of the country.

Although Lebanon’s devastating circumstances are largely connected with incompetent and corrupt leadership, the international community should not entirely look the other way. Indeed, the country is a pivotal piece balancing the security quagmire in the Middle East. Its fall might generate disruption in the precarious regional balance of power, destabilizing the neighbouring countries. An internal structural change in the political landscape is already happening, menacing to favour factions such as Hezbollah. As Heiko Wimmen - the project director at the International Crisis Group - has commented, “If the situation continues to deteriorate and the state falls apart, Hezbollah will be better placed than other political groups to provide for its constituents and to control the areas important to it”.

Written by Cinzia Saro

Cinzia Saro is a columnist at DecipherGrey.


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