“We love life so much because we have lost all hope.” Lebanese artist Melissa Ghaz expresses herself with this forcefulness. It summarizes the philosophy of life of the Beirutis. He takes a sip of coffee and falls silent. Only the music in the streets hides the fatigue of a people that has stopped making plans for tomorrow. Nobody talks about the future in Lebanon.
The country faces one of the worst moments in its history. He was already in deep crisis when two brutal and unforeseeable events occurred. The explosion in the port of Beirut, which left more than 200 dead in August 2020 and enormous damage from which the city has not yet recovered. The pandemic has also collapsed the health system and ruined the economy. “The crises are many. Depression occurs because no one knows how to adapt to new scenarios ”, explains Marie Hardan, psychologist and socio-educational counselor. “And all this adds to the political problems that we already had,” he says.
Lebanon has suffered a drastic drop in GDP of about 40% since 2018, according to the World Bank. Inflation has accumulated a rise of 200% over the last two years. The devaluation of the lira against the dollar reaches 90%. The rise in the price of fuel has no brake.
The state no longer has the capacity to respond. The electricity supply in hospitals, nor access to water, or medicines is not guaranteed. Nor the right to education of minors and adolescents. The uncertainty once again puts a society that lives in the improvisation of day to day to the test.
At night, the streets of Beirut are silent witnesses to social inequalities. At a glance it is easy to distinguish between rich and poor, just look at the facades of buildings to discover the ability to access electricity. The most fortunate have generators of their own. In humble neighborhoods, they resort to candles and lamps. A difference that does not stop growing and that has eaten away the middle class. “The power cuts every night make my six-month-old daughter sleep without heating and it is very cold in my apartment,” says Ahmed Nasridin, 29, who works as a taxi driver. “The headlights of the cars replace the streetlights to illuminate the streets,” he describes the Lebanese nights.
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“Beirut is unrecognizable”, agree the young people consulted. It is not the city of your childhood. All have been dragging electrical infrastructure problems since the civil war (1975-1990). Now even self-sufficiency is beginning to be complicated by the rise in the price of diesel for generators. An alternative that houses in the poorest neighborhoods do not usually have. “Not all of us have generators, it is a matter of luck that the homeowner has it and that the tenant can pay for the fuel,” explains Nasridin.
“Only in November we have been without electricity 524 hours out of the 720 that the month has,” says Hassan Alauz, head of the technical department of the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, in Beirut. The largest public hospital in Lebanon and the main one for the treatment of covid-19. “We left unlit areas, unused elevators, we turned off the air conditioning. We prioritize operating rooms and storage units to save fuel, ”he reveals.
The hospital depended on the state power company, but as a result of the current crisis it began to have to connect the generators at least 12 hours a day. Right now, there are days when they are the only source of energy. “We invest a large part of our funds in diesel. This poses a serious problem for financing treatments and purchasing drugs. The best illuminated areas of the center are those that have the support of international organizations ”, informs Wahida Ghalayini, director of the hospital. Also, many medical devices break down due to power outages and power outages. And it costs a lot of money to fix them.
Medical staff are exhausted and have no motivation to continue. “The salary no longer compensates. What we earn we spend on the round trip, ”complains Amal Nasif, a 35-year-old nurse. The average salary no longer lasts until the end of the month, even civil servants and the military have seen their economic capacity to survive diminished. Inflation and shortages, as well as the lack of solutions, have increased social discontent as well as the rejection of the political class.
The Lebanese political system has a distribution of seats and positions by religious and ethnic groups. At present, the model has collapsed. “The problem is this sectarian system that is not practical and does not help to solve problems,” says psychologist Hardan. Since the explosion in Beirut, it has taken 13 months to agree to the new prime minister, Nayib Mikati, precisely the richest man in Lebanon. He took office on September 10.
Education as a thermometer of the social crisis
Schools are another thermometer of the social crisis. The bankruptcy of the country is related to the large increase in school absenteeism. For Unicef, the problem is linked to the increase in child labor and early marriages. “Children with disabilities, girls and adolescents, refugees and the poorest are at greater risk of never learning again,” warns Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF representative in Lebanon.
Educational centers have electricity depending on whether they are public or private, and the neighborhood in which they are located. Hallak School, in a humble district, is a true reflection of the decline of the country. He does not have the resources to start the heating, so his students remain in their warm clothes in class. Teachers notice the physical exhaustion and hunger that schoolchildren bring in from home. “Before we did not distribute food, now we make sandwiches. It may be the only food they are going to eat that day, ”laments a teacher.
Amani, 14, is first class and wants to be a dentist. She’s sitting in the front row and chasing her teacher’s movements. In the afternoons, she helps her mother by sewing suits and mending clothes so that she and her six siblings can stay in school. “She is very talented and this year her mother told us that she could not pay her tuition and we decided not to charge her,” reveals Maha Badeg, the center’s coordinator.
Fatma Abdelrazag, Amani’s mother, prepares the tea while exposing all the obstacles that have been found in Lebanon for being Syrian. It took him a long time to get legal residency. Poverty hits the refugee population the most. The United Nations has some 865,000 Syrians in Lebanon, a figure that the Government raises to 1.5 million. Thousands of families are living in settlements or in the most humble neighborhoods. Among Syrians, the situation is dramatic: 90% barely survive, below the poverty line.
Abdelrazag has been in the country for 10 years and his children have been unable to go to school for three years. A 2021 United Nations assessment found that the Lebanese education system hosts 660,000 Syrian refugee children of school age, but 200,000 have never been to school, and almost 60% had not been in school in recent years. Children do not know what future awaits them in Lebanon. “What explanations will we give our sons and daughters?” Asks psychologist Hardan. “We are immersed in a struggle for survival,” she answers herself. “So we better not talk about the future.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.