Lebanon stands as a harrowing reminder about the ways in which cycles of conflict can be perpetuated and last for generations if not properly addressed by competent leadership in the context of robust systems and rule of law.
A growing humanitarian emergency, originating in sectarianism and corruption, was exacerbated by COVID19 and a catastrophic explosion at the Port of Beirut on August 4, 2020.
In the Summer of 2022, the Lebanese economy is in shambles, and the Lebanese pound has lost 95% of its value since 2019.
Lebanon is going through the worst economic collapse anywhere in the world in over a century.
Here are a few things we’re watching and working on.
Port of Beirut Explosion
On 4 August 2020, a devastating explosion occurred at the port of Beirut. At least 218 people were killed and 7,000 injured as a result of the explosion. Some 77,000 homes were destroyed. But the blast also caused extensive damage to the port itself, which has had nearly two-years of knock-on effects for the country (and region).
In addition to the homes, thousands of restaurants, grocers, corner stores, and other businesses were destroyed across the enormous blast radius, throwing an already tense economic and political situation into overdrive. More than 50% of all businesses in the nation’s capital are estimated to have been destroyed.
Eighty percent of Lebanon’s wheat is typically imported from Russia and Ukraine. With the war in Ukraine affecting wheat supply around the world, and Lebanon’s inability to store more than one month’s worth of wheat since the destruction of the port’s grain silos, things have the potential to go from bad to worse.
A fire at the silos began burning for weeks in late July, fueled by the fermented grain, prompting Ministry of Health officials to warn of an imminent collapse of the remaining silos and a potential health risk for those within a one-mile radius of the port, which is situated in the central district. The silos began collapsing on July 31, dispersing potentially hazardous dust across the city, as the Health Ministry warned.
Protests & Ongoing Revolution
Prior to the blast, in October 2019, protests erupted in Beirut over the government's failure to address an economic crisis that had been brewing for years. The country was facing severe inflation and growing poverty. But the final straw was a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls, the primary means by which many of the poor stay in touch due to the lack of a per call fee. The government's inability to resolve these issues led to further unrest and mounting tensions between political factions.
The explosion that destroyed the Port of Beirut in August 2020, resulted in significant delays at ports along Lebanon's coastline as cargo vessels were unable to dock until the damage was repaired. Inflation rose across the country due to an increased demand for goods in both Lebanon and Syria, which relies heavily on Lebanon for its imports.
Growing Poverty Crisis
In the early 2000’s, after a 15-year civil war, Lebanon’s most reliable export was its human capital. Millions of Lebanese refugees and immigrants sent remittances back home to rebuild the nation.
Meanwhile, the government rebuilt Beirut with luxury shopping malls a high-rises and made Lebanon a tourist destination for much of the Middle East. But the outward facade was built on a mountain of debt equivalent to 150% of its national output. Lebanon’s post-war financial system became known as a “nationally regulated Ponzi scheme”, borrowing new money to pay off old debt.
The combination of all these factors, sectarianism, and more led to a major economic crisis, with a huge increase in poverty across the country.
The country’s debt-to-GDP ratio became the highest in the world.
Lebanon’s inflation has been the highest in the world over the last year. And while much of the world is now experiencing some inflation, the impact in Lebanon has been a doubling of the poverty rate, and a tripling of extreme poverty, from 2019 to 2020—and things are only getting worse.
Palestinian & Syrian Refugees
The Syrian refugee crisis has led to a rise in anti-refugee sentiment among many Lebanese. Refugees have been scapegoated for the economic crisis, with many claiming refugees are taking away jobs and lowering wages. In reality, Syrian refugees face extreme work restrictions that make it impossible for refugees to have filled enough jobs to have affected the economy in the ways that are claimed by some.
Refugees have also been blamed for increases in crime and terrorism and accused of spreading diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. As a result, Syrians find it even harder to find decent work.
Nearly 9 out of 10 Palestinian and Syrian refugees live below minimal survival conditions.
Rise in Violence
The last year has been marked by a sharp rise in both mob violence and armed skirmishes, with sectarian echoes of the past, and a potential harbinger of things to come.
Rising fuel prices, the collapsing currency, and long lines have given rise to more than 100 mob incidences marked by blockades, gun fights, and the hijacking of fuel tankers.
Sectarian politics over the investigation into the explosion at the port also gave rise to the deadliest day of violence in years, as gunmen believed to be from the Christian Lebanese Forces fired into a gathering of Hezbollah and Amal, killing seven Shia.
Without a shift of both economic and social dynamics on the ground, this rise in violence can easily become the fodder for overreaction that hurdles a country toward compounding cycles of violence.
Make no mistake: Lebanon’s crisis is the deliberate policy and leadership failure of its politicians. But it is the people of Lebanon who are paying the extraordinary price, cut off from food, electricity, and jobs.
The solution to this crisis comes down to policy, rule of law, and competent leadership. But the further the people of Lebanon slide into destitution, the harder and harder it becomes for everyday Lebanese to demand reform, apply pressure via protests, or show up to vote for qualified technocrats.
HUMANITE in Lebanon
Lebanon is one of the countries where HUMANITE was originally founded by Michel Tannous and cofounders from across the Middle East. Though Lebanon had been a base of operations for our founding team’s work together in Syria since 2016, we began our Lebanese work in earnest together on August 4, 2020, in response to the blast at the port.
As a team, we’ve helped other organizations provide hundreds of thousands of hot meals, rebuilt homes, supported teachers and school systems, and invested in agriculture and exports that aim to increase decent work for both Lebanese citizens and refugees.
HUMANITE is Lebanese and is committed to the people of Lebanon. But helping everyday people in Lebanon gain access to the food, medicine, and work they need to survive, is something HUMANITE can only accomplish with you.
Become a member of HUMANITE (or make a one-time donation) today to help stop the spread of violence and fortify local peace across Lebanon, before it’s too late.