Inflammation and stories on Lebanon

Lebanon's Water SystemAmid an escalating economic crisis, Lebanon finds itself in an incredibly vulnerable position. According to the United Nations, Lebanon’s water system is at critical risk of total failure. About 71% of the country’s population is at risk of losing water as the public water system is reportedly “on life support.” UNICEF emphasizes the need for emergency action and stands by to offer crucial support. Forecasts warn of an increase in disease due to lack of sanitation as well as the closure of essential facilities.

The Cause of the Water System Collapse

For nearly a year now, Lebanon has existed without a government, according to CNN. Furthermore, the World Bank describes Lebanon’s economic crisis as one of the three worst economic disasters since the mid-19th century. The country’s GDP per capita has plummeted by about 40% and its currency has lost more than 90% of its value since late 2019. As a result, about half the population has slipped below the poverty line.

Yukie Mokuo, a UNICEF representative in Lebanon, tells UNICEF that Lebanon’s water system difficulties due to the economic collapse raise three main issues. First, she emphasized the importance of adequately funding routine maintenance of the public water system, which Lebanon cannot sustain.  Second, the problem of non-revenue water, or water that has been lost before it could reach consumers, remains. Last, the state of the power grid and the growing cost of fuel is not positive.

Mokuo also adds that those struggling to get by during the economic crisis will be the most vulnerable to the water system’s collapse. People would have to make hard choices when it comes to sanitation, hygiene and basic water needs.

The Risk and the Need

Mokuo and UNICEF also warn that, without urgent action, essential public facilities will be rendered unable to function. Among the four million people affected, children stand to risk the most. Children’s health and hygiene would take a fall in the wake of such a crisis since the immediate effects would impact overall public health. The country would see an increase in diseases without effective sanitation. In particular, women and young girls would face specific challenges “to their personal hygiene, safety and dignity without access to safe sanitation,” according to Mokuo.

UNICEF requires $40 million a year to adequately support Lebanon’s water system. The fund would work to address supply and maintain adequate levels of clean water for more than four million people. The mission would aim to secure the “minimum levels of fuel, chlorine, spare parts and maintenance necessary.” This would enable the continued functioning of various key systems while safeguarding access and ensuring public operation.

A Plea for Lebanon

Mokuo affirms the importance of the necessary funding to support UNICEF’s mission in addressing Lebanon’s water system collapse. She says, “[W]e will remain steadfast in our support to communities as resources permit, but this alarming situation requires immediate and sustained funding.” She added, “UNICEF stands ready to support, particularly as the global pandemic evolves, to ensure that the most basic right to clean water is met for children and families at this critical time for Lebanon.” As such, UNICEF calls “for the urgent restoration of the power supply — the only solution to keep water services running.” In the meanwhile, UNICEF continues with COVID-19 relief efforts in Lebanon, providing “life-saving services” and supporting the vaccine rollout.

Though the situation remains dire, the commitment of UNICEF signals genuine support that Lebanon can rely on. In an imperfect, developing situation, UNICEF’s focus provides hope that even in the worst case, help stands ready.

Gene Kang
Photo: Flickr

Beirut port explosionUnited States President Joe Biden pledged $100 million in aid to Lebanon on the one-year anniversary of the Beirut explosion. On the evening of August 4, 2020, more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the port of Beirut. More than 200 people died as a result of the tragedy, thousands more suffered injuries and 80,000 children lost their homes. A year later, the Lebanese people continue to grapple with the shattering of their capital and families are seeking some form of justice. As Beirut continues on the road to recovery, a global leader investing in Lebanon is a step in the right direction.

Lebanese Government Culpability

After the initial shock of the explosion, the Lebanese people searched for explanations as to why the disaster occurred. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) compiled with the assistance of “investigative journalists and independent researchers,” Lebanon’s leaders were in fact aware of the precarious storage of the explosives. The leaders, including the president and prime minister, allegedly did not take the steps necessary to stow the ammonium nitrate properly. Moreover, HRW declared that evidence “strongly suggests” that some Lebanese government officials anticipated the potential destruction from the ammonium nitrate’s storage and “tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring.” Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned after the outrage surrounding the Lebanese government’s alleged implication.  A year after his resignation, there have been no prosecutions issued and no Lebanese senior politicians have taken responsibility for the tragedy.

Grassroots Support in Beirut

According to HRW, the explosion damaged 77,000 Beirut apartments and displaced more than 300,000 people. Coupled with the business shutdowns and economic uncertainty produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lebanon is facing the “most severe economic crisis in its modern history.” Consequently, 55% of Lebanese people currently live below the poverty line. Without the support of the Lebanese government, Beirut has had to rely on the resilience of its people to recover. In particular, women-led organizations play a vital role in the city’s initial recovery efforts. Grassroots organizations including Live Love Lebanon, Stand for Women and the Lebanese Democratic Women’s Gathering are significantly helping to aid victims. The organizations have helped clean the streets and remove debris. In addition, U.N. Women is partnering with these organizations to aid the recovery of women-owned businesses.

The Need for Internal Reform

In addition to the $100 million pledge, Biden conveyed his condolences to the families who lost loved ones. He also urges other global leaders to “step up their support for Lebanese people.” Moreover, Biden explains that Beirut’s economic recovery largely depends on the Lebanese leaders’ dismantling of the country’s political corruption. Although Biden affirms that the United States will “be here every step of the way” to support the Lebanese government’s efforts to create a stronger future for the Lebanese people, he notes that unless Lebanese leaders commit to reform, no outside aid will be truly effective.

From the Syrian humanitarian crisis to the Beirut blast, the United States asserts its position as a global leader by assisting vulnerable people across the world in their most dire times of need. With further support from the international community, hope is on the horizon for the full recovery of Lebanon.

– Madeline Murphy
Photo: Unsplash

charity hub LebanonSince Lebanon’s deadly Beirut blast in August 2020, the country’s economy has been on a steady decline. Lebanon’s financial and economic crisis has plunged many Lebanese people into poverty. However, Charity Hub, an organization aiming to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, brings hope to the situation.

Poverty in Lebanon Since the Beirut Blast

Since the Beirut blast that killed around 200 people in August 2020, Lebanon’s economic crisis has led to a serious humanitarian crisis as well. According to the United Nations, more than half of Lebanon is now living in poverty. The country’s currency has depreciated and food prices rose by more than 670% between April 2019 and April 2021, leaving many without basic necessities. Healthcare availability and affordability have also been steadily declining. With the added impact of COVID-19, Lebanon’s healthcare system is strained, experiencing shortages of essential medical supplies.

Additionally, public services have become unreliable because of political tensions and the current instability of the government. Extreme poverty was increasing before the blast and this trend has only been worsening in the blast’s aftermath. Many people in Lebanon are unable to secure food, water, shelter and basic healthcare, especially as protests break out and civil unrest increases. The crisis impacts not just Lebanese people but also the large Syrian and Palestinian refugee population within the country’s borders.

Charity Hub

Established by Abdallah Khatab in December 2020, Charity Hub is an organization that “groups several NGOs and initiatives under one roof.” Charity Hub aims to “help fill in the gaps left by an absent government,” ensuring no Lebanese citizen lacks basic necessities during these unstable times. Charity Hub supplies medical resources, food, mental health services and more.

Although Charity Hub began with a goal of linking various organizations together to provide relief aid after the Beirut explosion, it has evolved into a full-fledged charity working to aid the Lebanese people. Charity Hub has teamed up with other organizations on projects such as distributing more than 6,000 cans of baby milk to more than 3,000 families and organizing beach cleanups. After the Beirut blast, in particular, the organization worked to repair more than 148 homes affected by the blast as well as about 20 small and medium-sized local businesses.

Charity Hub’s mission is to “focus on making the maximum positive effort” for the greater community. The organization uses data-driven models to find long-lasting solutions to problems that Lebanese people in poverty face. “The more problems arise, the more we try our best to find solutions. What we do is extremely rewarding,” founder Khatab tells The961. Charity Hub’s website gallery showcases the positive impact it has made thus far.

Looking Ahead

The economic, financial and humanitarian crises worsened by the Beirut blast have only been increasing in severity with the ongoing impact of COVID-19. As such, Charity Hub’s commitment to the well-being of people within Lebanon is stronger than ever. The organization is growing its team, working hard to ensure every person is able to secure food, shelter and medicine.

Although charities can only do so much without a stabilizing government and an improving economy, Charity Hub is a beacon of hope amid the country’s humanitarian crisis, helping to uplift the country and build a strong community in the face of adversity.

Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Lebanon is currently experiencing an economic crisis that, according to the World Bank, is one of the most severe economic crises worldwide since the 19th century. The impact of the crisis is widespread. More than 70% of Lebanon’s population currently lacks access to basic necessities such as food. Not even the wealthy are insulated from the impact of the current crisis, as previously affluent families are being pushed into poverty. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are particularly vulnerable to the crisis.

The Status of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Approximately 1.7 million refugees are believed to be living in Lebanon as of 2020, with 1.5 million originating from Syria. Of these Syrian refugees, more than 80% are not legal residents, placing them in a precarious position. Syrians who have legal status either entered the country before 2015 or have a sponsor in the country. These Syrians must also pay a $200 fee every year. Lebanon practices non-refoulement of refugees, which should protect the right of Syrian refugees to live in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese government implemented policies that streamlined the process for Syrians to leave Lebanon in 2020 and expressed interest in having Syrian refugees return to their country of origin.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon often struggle to access services such as educational opportunities despite having the legal right to attend public schools. Because they typically live in temporary or informal housing, it can be difficult for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to locate Syrian refugees in order to help them. Factors such as language barriers can also present a challenge to Syrian refugees. Approximately 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live on less than half of the Lebanese minimum wage.

Syrian Refugees in the Lebanese Economic Crisis

Due to political instability, debt, banking problems and economic stagnation, Lebanon entered its current crisis in October 2019. Prior to October 2019, approximately 55% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon lived in poverty, demonstrating that the Syrian refugee community needed support even prior to the crisis. Today, approximately 90% of Syrian refugees live in extreme poverty, showing a significant increase in poverty levels during the economic crisis.

As poverty levels among Syrian refugees in Lebanon increased, the value of Lebanon’s currency, the Lebanese pound, decreased. Between 2019 and 2021, Lebanese food prices increased by 402%. Consequently, Syrian refugees who generally struggled to afford basic necessities prior to the start of the crisis now have even less purchasing power. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are accumulating debt because they lack the funds to buy everyday necessities. Even for Syrian refugees who can afford everyday necessities, accessing products, such as medication, is proving difficult as pharmacies face shortages.

Not all refugees are equally impacted by the crisis. Syrian refugee households headed by women experience disproportionately high rates of food insecurity. Children in these households are particularly vulnerable to the crisis. Unfortunately, Lebanese child labor rates nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020. Additionally, the rate of child labor is higher in Syrian refugee households headed by women than in households run by men.

The economic crisis is also contributing to anti-refugee sentiments. Prior to the start of the crisis, Lebanese politicians used the pending economic crisis to justify anti-refugee rhetoric. As economic conditions deteriorate for the entire country, native Lebanese people blame Syrian refugees for taking their opportunities away.

Providing Aid for Refugees

Several organizations provide support for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are longstanding aid providers for refugees living in Lebanon. UNHCR Lebanon has prioritized humanitarian assistance to Syrians through cash cards, vouchers and ATM cards in order for them to secure basic necessities at local markets. These purchases, in turn, stimulate the local economy. In 2018, the UNHCR provided cash support of $175 per month to nearly 33,000 Syrian households. Similarly, the WFP provides food assistance to Syrian refugees and struggling Lebanese by providing e-cards credited with $27 at the start of each month so that individuals can buy food from local stores.

As poverty increases in the country, the need for aid to the general population is increasing. With cities such as Tripoli facing poverty rates as high as 85% among their residents, the Lebanese government is focusing on providing widespread relief for the population. The Lebanese parliament recently approved measures to support more than half a million families in Lebanon, fortunately including Syrian refugees.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Lebanon
Lebanon is facing an economic crisis of unparalleled proportions. COVID-19 has severely impacted economic activity in Lebanon as it has in other countries throughout the world. However, the Lebanese economy was in freefall even prior to the pandemic. Since the economic collapse began in 2019, Lebanon has seen triple-digit inflation, heightened unemployment and a skyrocketing poverty rate. Stringent lockdowns in January 2021 kept the spread of COVID-19 under control. However, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Lebanon is severe, exacerbating Lebanon’s pre-existing crises and hindering economic recovery.

The Economic Crisis in Lebanon

Lebanon was once a popular destination for tourists who wanted to experience the Middle East’s beauty and rich culture. However, economic collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated one of the largest sectors of Lebanon’s economy: tourism. Economic instability has exacerbated precarious living conditions for millions of impoverished Lebanese people.

Public debt defaults and a banking liquidity crisis forced many businesses to close even before the pandemic hit. Lebanon’s economy has steadily contracted since 2019. The impact of COVID-19 increased Lebanon’s unemployment rate from 6.04% in 2019 to 6.6% in 2020, the highest rate seen in a decade. The failure of Lebanon’s economic and financial systems has resulted in millions unable to afford basic necessities.

Lebanon and Syria

The ongoing Syrian Civil War that began in 2011 has had significant ramifications in Lebanon. It has also contributed to the collapse of the Lebanese economy. Lebanon has had a long and fluctuant history with its much larger neighbor, Syria. Substantial business relationships exist between Lebanon and Syria’s political and economic elites. Lebanon’s economic disasters remain intrinsically tied to the decade of destruction in Syria. This has created a crisis of its own in Lebanon.

Lebanon houses more Syrian refugees than any other country. With Palestinian refugees included, refugees make up roughly a quarter of Lebanon’s population. These refugees live in camps and shantytowns that offer little protection from the elements and are void of public services. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon living in extreme poverty from 55% to 90%.

Civilian Poverty and COVID-19

Refugees are not the only ones struggling in Lebanon. With a poverty rate of more than 55%, material deprivation and the suffering it causes are widespread among the 6.8 million Lebanese natives and refugees alike. Many social support services were cut in response to the debt crisis, which left many with little assistance in the face of catastrophe.

Furthermore, August 2020’s Beirut port explosion killed at least 200 people, destroyed thousands of buildings and caused billions of dollars in property damage. Lebanon initially dodged a severe COVID-19 outbreak. However, medical services and ICU beds became heavily strained when cases peaked in January 2021. Thousands of Lebanese people have taken to the streets in past years to protest what they see as a corrupt and inept political class that has consistently failed the citizens of Lebanon.

COVID-19 Aid

In January 2021, The World Bank approved a $264 million project to reduce poverty in Lebanon. The Emergency Crisis and COVID-19 Response Social Safety Net Project (ESSN) will “provide emergency cash transfers and access to social services” to about 786,000 impoverished Lebanese people “reeling under the pressure of Lebanon’s economic and COVID-19 crises.” The project will also focus on developing social security nets in Lebanon to ensure an improved response to future economic shocks.

Exactly 147,000 households living in extreme poverty will receive financial support for one year. Additionally, “87,000 children between the ages of 13-18 will receive a top-up cash transfer to cover the direct costs of schooling.” A core objective of the ESSN is to create a sustainable social safety net that can readily support impoverished Lebanese people even after the World Bank’s aid ends. It is vital for aid to focus on those most vulnerable as the ESSN project highlights.

The Road to Recovery

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Lebanon has been harsh. While wealthy nations’ economies suffered from lockdowns and closures, the economic effects of the pandemic were even more acute in impoverished nations struggling to recover from pre-existing catastrophes. COVID-19 has made poverty more widespread, narrowing pathways out of poverty.

While the worsening situation in Lebanon has attracted international attention and support, the structural issues that led to extreme poverty have only been alleviated, not solved. With continued commitment and support from the global community, Lebanon can successfully rebuild and recover.

Will Pease
Photo: Flickr

Lebanon’s economic crisisAn unprecedented economic crisis has gripped the nation of Lebanon for the last 18 months. Years of political instability propelled Lebanon’s economic crisis, however, 2020 worsened its struggling economy through two events: first, the COVID-19 Pandemic that asphyxiated economies worldwide and, second, the massive explosion in the Port of Beirut that detonated in early August. These two disastrous, high fatality events transformed a dire situation into Lebanon’s economic crisis.

The Crisis Reaches New Heights

Last year, Lebanon saw a surge in inflation rates accompanied by sharp spikes in poverty. As the crisis reached new heights, central banks stopped lending money to medium and small businesses. This decision increased an already harsh situation for working-class people in Lebanon. The World Bank estimates that over half of the nation’s population possibly lives below the poverty line. Access to food, water and other staples have become dangerously restricted for those most affected by this economic crisis.

The consequences of the Beirut blast reached national proportions for Lebanon. The level of urban reconstruction needed to repair the damaged portions of Beirut has added a significant strain on the other infrastructural demands. Services that have been affected include access to a consistent electrical grid and waste management system. On a local level, the blast devastated the immediate surroundings and the cost of reconstruction has mounted to several billion dollars.

International Aid for Lebanon

International groups launched a fundraiser for an aid initiative in December of 2020. These groups created an outline for recovery and a restructuring Lebanon’s financial sector to combat constricting debt and financial insecurity. However, The World Bank emphasizes the need to bolster Lebanon’s internal financial sectors to achieve economic stability. With this in mind, Lebanon will require international assistance to reach these goals.

Civil and Political Unrest

Before the Pandemic, Lebanon’s economic woes were entangled within a collapsing central banking system. Overloaded with debt and inflated liquidity, the central bank shut down, effectively denying the majority of Lebanon’s working-class access to bank loans and financial services. The collapse of the financial sector plunged swaths of Lebanon’s population below the poverty line. Demonstrations and other forms of civil unrest stretched security forces thin and established a new norm of chaos. In the midst of the social upheaval, the government fell apart, dashing hopes for a centralized internal reconstruction of the nation’s economy and infrastructure.

Political analysts blame both the country’s central bank and the Hezbollah party for the roots of the economic crisis. Furthermore, analysts insist that a solution cannot be implemented until both of these problems are addressed. Despite the current political instability of Lebanon and its failed efforts to reform its government, analysts fear that the nation may descend deeper into political division. If the structure of Lebanon’s government deteriorates to the point that a power vacuum becomes available, extremist groups will take advantage, which demonstrates a grave risk to global security.

Lebanon’s Future

As the political vacuum occupying Lebanon’s center persists, the nation looks ahead towards elections in 2022. The future of Lebanon relies on the consensus of multiple political factions. This could prove a tedious situation. Such mediation would weigh the fragile balance of international intrusion, whether from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or political incentives from the United States or Iran. The likeliest path for Lebanon will include a series of shortterm stabilization efforts that will impede the rate of economic collapse and look towards shoring up Lebanon’s financial sector. However, the longterm vision of Lebanon is still a matter of deep contention.

– Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

the Clooney's donationThe COVID-19 pandemic has impacted millions of lives all around the world, causing more than three million deaths globally as of April 2021. The pandemic has caused rapidly rising poverty levels due to economic shutdowns and widespread job losses. In 2020, the pandemic-induced, newly impoverished population is expected to stand between 119 and 124 million people. In 2021, this number is expected to rise to between 143 and 163 million people. Many celebrities are using their platforms to contribute to COVID-19 relief efforts, including George and Amal Clooney, who have prioritized philanthropy throughout the majority of their careers. The Clooney’s donation to COVID-19 relief efforts aims to cushion the impact of COVID-19, especially for vulnerable populations.

The Clooneys COVID-19 Relief Efforts

The Clooneys donated more than $1 million to COVID-19 relief efforts in 2020. Hollywood’s power couple has directed the donation to six different organizations, both domestic and international, aiming to relieve the strain COVID-19 has put on the world. The Clooneys graciously donated $300,000 to three particular international beneficiaries: the Lebanese Food Bank, the Lombardy region of Italy and the National Health Service COVID-19 appeal.

The Lebanese Food Bank

Like the rest of the world, the pandemic has harshly impacted Lebanon. Lebanon has reported more than 540,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 7,700 deaths as of May 30, 2021. On top of that, nearly 50% of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line. Lebanon was enduring an economic crisis even before the COVID-19 pandemic came about. In terms of food security, according to an ESCWA report, almost 50% of Lebanese people express concerns about their ability to obtain adequate food, with 31% reporting that they had not eaten “healthy and nutritious food” for a year.

The Lebanese Food Bank plays a vital role in ensuring impoverished people in Lebanon are able to access food. The organization accomplished this “by collecting wasted food of good quality and impartially distributing it to charities and people in need.” However, with the increasing food insecurity due to COVID-19, the Lebanese Food Bank is in need of donations to help expand its reach. The donation from the Clooneys is a personal ode from the couple as Amal Clooney is of Lebanese-British descent.

Lombardo Italy Region

The donation to the Lombardo Italy Region is also particularly significant to the Clooneys who have lived there for many years. The money will go to local hospitals in the region. Since the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected Italy. The country has recorded more than four million total cases and more than 121,000 deaths as of May 1, 2021. Lombardy has the most recorded cases in the country.

The Lombardy Italy Region was overwhelmed by the first wave of the global pandemic. Doctors were pushed to ration ventilators and hospital beds, unable to cope with the influx of patients and limited resources. About three-quarters of hospital beds in Lombardy were filled with COVID-19 patients at the peak of the pandemic, almost double the level considered dangerous by the National Health Ministry. This was mostly due to a lack of coordination between private and public healthcare systems and facilities. The Clooney’s donation will certainly ease the strain on healthcare in Lombardy during COVID-19.

National Health Service COVID-19 Appeal

The U.K. has also suffered greatly during the pandemic, with more than four million cases and 127,000 deaths recorded as of May 30, 2021. Between March and December 2020, more than 850 frontline medical workers reportedly died from COVID-19. Frontline medical workers have struggled with the mental health consequences that come with being an essential working during a pandemic. More than 21% of surveyed National Health Service (NHS) workers reported “high levels of depression compared with 5% before the pandemic.”

Considering these circumstances, the Clooney’s donation will provide vital relief to NHS frontline workers treating infected patients. The NHS has provided support services to health and care workers throughout the pandemic. In addition, the NHS also provides staff with mental health services as well as “specialist bereavement support.”

The Clooneys have chosen to use their celebrity platforms for a humanitarian cause, publicly supporting COVID-19 relief efforts, and hopefully, inspiring others to follow their lead.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: Flickr

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
In an essay on humanitarian purpose, Ilana Feldman expressed a sentiment that many humanitarian workers share. She expressed hopelessness in her ability to alter the lives of suffering Palestinians. She believes that this despondency has led many humanitarian workers to promote endurance and resilience within a harsh reality. Instead of a determination to alter this reality, Palestinian refugees must endure it, including those in Lebanon. This hopelessness was not as prevalent in 1947.

The Nakba

Between 1947 and 1949, the flight of Palestinians reached staggering numbers. By 1949, approximately 750,000 Palestinians had fled Israel. According to the Palestinian narrative, these refugees underwent forcible expulsion. In fact, evidence exists to suggest this. One Israeli intelligence document estimates that 75% of Palestinians fled as a result of Zionist military action. Israelis claim otherwise.

Their flight followed the U.N. partition plan. In 1947, because of increasing feuds between the Palestinian, British and Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, the British decided to end its mandate over Palestine and transfer control to the U.N. general assembly. The U.N. chose to partition Palestine into two separate states. The Jews would receive around 56% of the land, and the Arabs would receive around 43%.

The majority of Arabs, however, experienced disillusionment with this outcome, as their population outweighed Jews by more than half a million. Thus, the ensuing war led to what Arabs term the nakba or the catastrophe and what Zionists term the Israeli War for Independence. This nomenclature highlights the contrasting narratives of the Palestinians-Israeli conflict.

After the Israeli victory in 1948, many of the 750,000 Palestinian refugees fled to neighboring countries. One of these countries was Lebanon. Today, the number of Palestinian refugees has risen to approximately 5 million. As many as 476,000 reside in Lebanon and are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The Weight of Economic Decline on Palestinians

On August 4, 2020,  catastrophe plagued Lebanon. A port in Beirut housing ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical, exploded. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 178 people have died and 300,000 people are homeless as a result of the explosion. These conspicuous hardships accompany economic decline.

Approximately half the population lives below the poverty line, and the Lebanese currency has dropped by 80%. Before the explosion and the rise of COVID-19, the debt was nearly $80 billion, the third-highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world. Some ascribed this economic crisis to corruption. Others believed it was the vestiges of the 15-year Lebanese civil war. Today, the debt is $93.4 billion, an 8.9% increase from February 2020.

Such circumstances have disproportionately affected Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The financial crisis has fostered a decline in services provided by the UNRWA, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA). For years, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon could not obtain employment in as many as 39 different professions.

Today, the financial crisis has bred unemployment for the few Palestinians fortunate enough to receive employment in Lebanon. In conjunction with inadequate electricity and a lack of clean water, the 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon have also experienced a spike in depression.

Conclusion

Despite grim circumstances, various organizations—the Lebanese Red Cross, the Lebanese Food Bank, Impact Lebanon and the Amel Association–have raised millions of dollars to assuage the economic and health-related impacts of the explosion. Additionally, the UNRWA is ameliorating the spread of COVID-19. Efforts range from regular sterilization of camps to education on the virus for Palestinian refugees. Much more can occur to acknowledge the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and the opportunity to return to their self-proclaimed homeland is still a distant hope. But these efforts do not simply contribute to endurance for Palestinian refugees. They do not amount to a default outcome. Though they should feel unsatisfying to any ambitious humanitarian worker, they still render real-world outcomes for Palestinian refugees. Amid growing hopelessness, that is nonetheless something to praise.

Blake Dysinger
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Corruption in LebanonEvents surrounding the massive blast that decimated the cosmopolitan city of Beirut have sparked outrage regarding poverty and corruption in Lebanon. The conclusion that many journalists and analysts have come to is that the bomb that went off on the Port of Beirut was an accident due to negligence by a corrupt, inefficient and sectarian government. As a result of the blast, 200 people died, many more were injured and 300,000 became homeless. Not to mention the economic devastation to Lebanon, with an estimated cost of $15 billion in losses to the entire country. The bombing has damaged an already strained healthcare system that is dealing with a global pandemic, causing a humanitarian crisis. This has sparked massive outrage in the form of protests taking over government ministries, calling for a revolution and a complete overhaul of the political system. However, this catastrophe only represents the tip of the iceberg, as we will see how the problem of corruption (and its link to poverty) has been mounting in Lebanon.

The Troubles Underneath

Lebanon scores 28 out of 100 (0 being highly corrupt and 100 being least corrupt) in the Corruption Perception Index. This is in many ways due to the system of patronage. The country is ruled by a patronage system in which the political elite exchange political support for jobs, contracts and other benefits and resources distributed by sectarian division. Political rule is inherited through sectarian lines as the government and legislative seats are filled through the use of sectarian networks and contacts. The result is a political system made up of three parties that cannot be challenged by independent actors. Not to mention, a system with no accountability and massive inefficiencies.

Maya Terro, co-founder and executive director at FoodBlessed, spoke with The Borgen Project, stating “in Lebanon, the effects of corruption permeate every corner of public life.” She went on to explain that corruption is widespread at all levels of Lebanese society. The Lebanese public tends to view both the political institutions, such as political parties and parliament, and government institutions, such as public administration and the police, as “the most corrupt institutions of the country.” Terro then expanded on the economic life in Lebanon, pointing out that corruption, as well as a lack of proper infrastructure and bureaucracy, leads to disincentivizing of conducting economic activity in the country. Businesses are usually faced with a weak judiciary system that is subject to petty bribes as well as political interference.

Private industry is also hampered by an unreliable and unaccountable police force, public services covered in bribes and sectarian patronage. This scenario shows further problems with a public procurement system filled with favoritism. Protecting whistleblowers is one of the ways to combat this corruption. Unfortunately, a report from Transparency International in 2015 did indicate a lack of major laws protecting whistleblowers and access to information from the government, which are important when investigating corruption.

The Correlation with Corruption and Poverty

Poverty and corruption in Lebanon are highly linked. As the country is embroiled in corruption, half of its population lives under the poverty line. The top economic 1% in Lebanon owns a quarter of the wealth, with 0.1% making the same amount of income as the bottom 50%. The unemployment rate is a staggering 30%. In her interview with The Borgen Project, Terro pointed out that income inequality is a major drive for corruption. Those who are very well off are incentivized to engage in corruption to further their wealth while impoverished communities are motivated by poverty to make a living. She further explains, “I can say from my own observations and based on scientific research is that the wealthy have both greater motivation and more opportunity to engage in corruption, whereas the poor are more vulnerable to extortion and less able to monitor and hold the rich and powerful accountable as inequality increases.”

Additionally, “at the institutional level, economic loss and inefficiency are further exacerbated by corruption. Corruption also exacerbates poverty by creating a state of unequal opportunities in which advantages arise only for those within a corrupt clientelistic network,” says Terro. The power-sharing patronage system has caused further poverty and corruption in Lebanon to the point where a bomb blast occurred in the middle of an economic crisis that the country was experiencing.

Drivers of Change

When asked about her view on the roles of NGOs and aid organizations such as USAID have in helping with the issue of poverty and corruption in Lebanon, Terro said “it doesn’t fight it much because institutions like these only deal with the effects, they don’t and can’t do much when it comes to the root causes of corruption in Lebanon, which are many-fold indeed and vary sometimes from one institution to another and from one person to another.”

However, it is worth highlighting certain actions that NGOs have taken in tackling poverty and corruption in Lebanon. For one, Transparency International engaged in an investigative and documentary campaign that highlighted pollution of the riverside in the Bar Elias town and the sickness it was causing the locals after the government ignored the problem. Advocacy by NGOs has partly helped create the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which is composed of experienced professionals independent and inexperienced in politics. When asked about her view on what’s the best way to tackle poverty and corruption in Lebanon, Terro said “you need to start with the root causes and beyond filing reports and media — shaming the corrupt, not much has been done beyond that. What is needed is action, not more reports.” This action was manifested in the October Revolution and recent protests from cross-sectarian divisions demanding radical change to the political system. Finally, there is the mounting pressure that is coming from the international community (especially from Emmanuel Macron) in forcing the government of Lebanon to implement necessary reformations to receive necessary foreign aid.

Today, the country is currently going into uncertainty after the resignation of the designated MP Mustafa Adib after it became clear that Iran-backed militias are hijacking the French initiative to reform the country. Following Adib’s resignation, former Prime Minister and billionaire Saad Al Hariri took the position after being ousted from that position a year ago. The political class seems incapable of implementing a reformation that would topple the system it has put into power. It appears that the three factors showing hope to tackle poverty and corruption in Lebanon are the anger and revolt of the Lebanese people, external pressures by actors like Macron and civil society groups that have previously filled the vacuum left by the government. For example, the environmental NGO Al-Shouf Cedar Society, and the majors of different districts are in cooperation in the management of Al-Shouf Ceder Nature Reserve. When it comes to aiding refugees from Syria, Lebanese NGOs, which are mostly funded by the U.N., tend to be the primary provider of aid. After the blast in Beirut, three women affected by the explosion started the grassroots community organization Khaddit Beirut and identified 100 local businesses that it aims to help, thereby creating 1,600 jobs. The group aims to harness the local energy of volunteers to aid the recovery of the city after the tragedy happened.

Following the Beirut explosion, NGOs and the Lebanese government are highlighting poverty and corruption in Lebanon and are actively working to address the root causes. However, there is still much to be done to alleviate the political corruption in Lebanon. Civil society groups and Lebanese NGOs are critical actors in reforming political action.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in Lebanon
According to a U.K. study, 10-15% of Lebanese residents have a disability. In Lebanon, like many places around the world, a direct link between disability and poverty exists. Disabled individuals in Lebanon are less likely to complete elementary school and more likely to face unemployment and poverty than the abled population. As a result, disability is one of the leading causes of institutionalization in Lebanon. Here is some information about disability and poverty in Lebanon.

In the Context of COVID-19

The Lebanese government has recently come under fire for providing disabled individuals with little, conflicting or no information regarding the virus. Aya Majzoub, a Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that “This exclusion is robbing people with disabilities of potentially life-saving information and services that they need to weather this crisis.” Restricting access to this information limits the ability of those with disabilities to social distance and access resources, as they must rely on word-of-mouth to make important safety decisions. This puts Lebanon’s disabled population at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, simply due to the fact that they do not have the information necessary to protect themselves.

However, even if the Lebanese government decided to give the disabled population accurate information, there is no guarantee that they would have the technology necessary to receive it. Although international law dictates that governments must use technologies such as interactive voice response and TTY/TDD to provide information in accessible formats, not everyone may be able to afford the technology necessary to receive those messages.

UNICEF and other NGOs have produced accessible materials for people with disabilities to gain accurate information regarding COVID-19.

Medical Care

People with disabilities in Lebanon cannot always access medical care. In an American University of Beirut study of disabled Lebanese citizens and refugees living in Lebanon, 78.5% said that financial ability was a barrier to health care.

Arceniel, a Lebanese nonprofit founded in response to the high number of disabilities caused by the Lebanese Civil Wars, provides pay-what-you-can health care. Specializing in disability care, the organization provides mobility equipment, specialized therapies, clinician visits and other resources.

Education

By law, all government buildings, including public schools must be accessible. However, a study found that only five of all Lebanese public schools were accessible. As a result, 85% of individuals with disabilities did not complete the Lebanese equivalent of elementary school.

During this time of working and studying from home, children with cognitive disabilities who rely on in-person learning to grasp material have experienced a significant impact. Fista, a Lebanese organization that works with children and adults with cognitive disabilities, moved its entire program online. Children with cognitive disabilities can now access instructors and therapists to continue their education toward bright futures.

Workplace Inequity

Law 220, a hopeful measure from the year 2000, set a quota for the percentage of disabled employees in a company. However, the lack of physical accessibility to most Lebanese buildings makes meeting that quota improbable, if not impossible. Moreover, the government rarely enforces Law 220’s quota at all, leaving prospective disabled employees with few employment options. As a result, 74% of the disabled population does not have employment.

According to the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union (LPHU)’s estimate, of disabled individuals who are capable of working, only 26% have employment. The union seeks to change that. LPHU offers on-the-job training, job placement, advocacy, business development services and counseling to those with physical disabilities.

Disability access is an issue in all countries around the world. Although the Lebanese government has taken legislative actions to improve the lives of the disabled population, enforcement of these laws for schools, workplaces and government outreach programs is lacking. The Lebanese government can and must do better to create accessible environments for its disabled population and reduce the link between disability and poverty in Lebanon.

– Monica McCown
Photo: Flickr