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I present to you a piece of my heart, Lebanon.
I do not shut up about being Lebanese. The last couple of years have really tested Lebanon as it cracked under poor management. A perfect storm unraveled as civil unrest erupted in late 2019 which under the circumstances allowed Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based Iran-supported militant group, to gain more and more power. Moving forward towards the pandemic, Covid-19 exacerbated the already poor living conditions and tanking economy, and a self-serving governmental body turned into a simply non-existent one. Late last year when the explosion at the port of Beirut was heard around the world, it turned global attention towards Lebanon once again.
Lebanon as a country has not necessarily had history on their side. They have had to deal with French imperialism and countless civil wars that have shredded the country and forced them to rebuild infrastructure from the bottom-up. Beirut, the capital and cultural hub of Lebanon, has been destroyed and rebuilt about seven times over the course of history. The explosion at the port symbolized the eighth destruction of the city and acted as a catalyst for accelerating the past couple of years of unfortunate events for Lebanon into the public eye.
Those on the ground are still in dire need of cash, access to health services and reconstruction of their houses. While government officials resigned one after another due to mounting political pressure exacerbated by the explosion. Many months after the collapse, a new government has yet to be named, all the while Lebanon’s financial situation is worsening by the day.
The Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri met with the French President Emmanuel Macron for guidance in naming new cabinet members in late February to discuss the formation of a new government. France feels a sense of responsibility to Lebanon due to the deep French influence in the country. Macron has been a beacon of light to the Lebanese people, as he pushes to persuade Lebanese politicians to come to an agreement to nominate qualified individuals and pluck out corruption that brought Lebanon to its current state.
Appointing a new government is not only crucial to get the ball rolling internally but happens to be a necessity to receive billions of dollars in funding from the International Monetary Fund, among other donors. This financial support is long overdue, as inflation has hit a record high causing the prices of everyday necessities like food and clothing to increase by 400%. The financial crisis has also affected every single person who holds their money in Lebanese bank accounts. Many are unable to access their deposits or withdrawal any USD, the only currency that holds weight at the moment.
While the current state of Lebanon can be attributed to the combined effects of the ongoing pandemic, a crumbling government and last year’s explosion at the port of Beirut, I’d like to focus on the direct effects this has had on the Lebanese populous.
Living conditions have worsened drastically for the average Lebanese citizen, according to the World Bank approximately 45% of the population are currently living under the poverty line. The central banking crisis essentially froze the assets of those who deposited their savings as the American Dollar. Today $1 USD is equal to about 10,000 Lebanese Liras whereas this time last year that same $1 USD to 1,500 liras. To further emphasize the reality of Lebanon’s financial crisis, The Financial Times presents data to indicate a 400 percent year-on-year rise in the average prices of food and beverages for the month of December. A gallon of milk has the hefty price tag of about $13 USD. Those who are making minimum wage are struggling to live on three dollars day to stretch their $76 a month salary.
The economic chokehold the country is being held in is manifesting itself in public frustration. Much like their former colonial occupants, France, in times of social unrest the Lebanese people turn to the streets to be heard.
This combination of frustration in the government and desperation to survive brought out the most recent anti-government protests. In early March main road in Beirut were blocked off as the Lebanese Lira hit a record low diminishing what little purchasing power they had left. If you go back to the anti-government protests of 2019 held in Lebanon and diaspora-heavy countries like France and the U.S., their demands were not silly requests but pure fear that foreshadowed the slow-burning crisis that lay ahead for their homeland. Jobs are being lost, the inflation rate is soaring, and as an import-dependent nation people are starving. With all of this loss and grief surrounding the citizens, the government has yet to produce a plan to help their own. The people of Lebanon are extremely resilient and going forward they need to stick closer together than they ever have. Mutual aid on the ground is really what has been keeping everyone afloat until structured solutions from the international community can solidify.
If you’re looking for a way to help here is a consolidated resource/donation list.