Inflammation and stories on Lebanon

In the past years, Lebanon has accrued approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees, aside from the large population of Palestinian refugees already present. While the country has provided a hospitable environment for those restarting their lives, there are many issues with access to food, shelter and education for refugees in Lebanon.

Recently, Lebanon has created an education system called “double-shift” schools located primarily in Beirut. The double-shift model has two shifts of students attending class each day, allowing Lebanese schools to reach beyond the already-enrolled students. The new afternoon shift gives Syrian refugees, who are not yet at the same education level as their Lebanese peers, an opportunity to receive quality education.

Education has been made free for both Lebanese and Syrian students to eliminate any discrimination against refugee students. Lebanon is able to thank international aid for allowing them the ability to provide education to all students. These international donors have paid up to $600 for each student to attend a double-shift school.

Some schools are able to accommodate up to 700 refugee students in the afternoons. Among the 259 schools offering double-shift education, there are now 85,000 children enrolled.

The increase in provided education for refugees in Lebanon also increases the access to food that many children are often without. The UN World Food Program has begun providing food access in schools for up to 10,000 children. The refugee children are provided with a snack, fruit and a box of either milk or juice when attending class. With access to regular meals and education, refugee students are able to pursue many of the same opportunities as their peers.

Though Syrian refugees have been unable to pursue sufficient education after being displaced, efforts are being taken to improve these issues largely through international aid. Providing basics such as food and education for refugees improves the ability to live normal lives for many of the children.

Amanda Panella

Photo: Flickr

In Lebanon, crucial civil services have been shut down as a result of political gridlock. For a few weeks, many businesses and households have been left with intermittent access to electricity and water. As if conditions were not difficult enough, a garbage crisis has emerged as trash collection has been halted.

Additionally, amid concerns of overfilling, the government has closed the country’s largest landfill and has not established any coping measures. As a result, the streets of Lebanese cities have been riddled with trash and waste.

The politics of Lebanon is based on a power-sharing structure amongst the various religious sects. While representative of the population, the country is susceptible to situations such as this as consensus can be difficult to achieve.

The capital of Beirut is home to over half the total Lebanese population and is the epicenter of the waste buildup. The situation has gotten so out of hand that citizens have begun burning trash in the streets. The fumes from burnt trash can contain toxic chemicals and creates its own set of serious health concerns.

Calling the situation a “major health disaster,” The country’s Health Minister, Wael Abu Faour, has called for the government officials to end the gridlock and fix the escalating garbage crisis in Lebanon.

Citizens have begun to mobilize and take to the streets to voice their objections to the trash as well as the government. Movements have adopted the slogan “You Stink” as a literal and figurative metaphor for the government and the situation they have created.

“You Stink” organizers have begun using social media outlets to pass information and spread word on protests. Recently, a protest of over 20,000 civilians took place in Beirut. However, police suppressed the protestors with billy clubs and fire hoses. A litany of footage documenting police violence has been uploaded to Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

“You Stink” protesters hope that the utilization of the internet and social media will raise awareness to the international community. With the added attention, organizers hope their Lebanese government will face mounting pressure to proactively solve this crisis.

The protests and concerns have certainly caught the attention of Prime Minister Tammam Salam. In a televised speech, he stated, “The trash issue was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but the story is larger, much larger than this straw, and it is the story of the political trash in the country.”

Frasier Petersen

Sources: New York Times 1, Huffington Post, New York Times 2, LA Times
Photo: New York Times

Mounting Anger over Trash Build-up in Beirut
In early August 2015, protesters stood outside Beirut’s government building, demanding that officials deal with the thousand tons of trash piling up on the city’s streets. The most frustrated of the crowd accused the government of acting like a regime ignoring the city’s demands for change.

Beirut’s former public landfill was based in the village of Naameh. It opened in 1997 and was only built to withstand a few years and about 2 million tons of rubbish. After 18 years and 10 million tons of trash, Beirut officials shut down Naameh.

The current issue is because the government failed to build a new one. “Everyone knew for the last six months that the landfill would close, but the government did nothing about it,” says one resident. With nowhere to dump it, trash collection for Beirut and its suburbs just stopped.

The city and its surrounding neighborhood generate 2,000 to 3,000 tons of trash each day and it is now cumulating into mounds on the streets. Many people have started wearing face masks. Others are setting fire to the filth, creating pillars of foul smoke and causing temperatures to climb above 90 degrees.

Lebanon rules with a very laissez-faire attitude. In lieu of recent unrest in the Middle East and problems within the country, the government has been unable to elect a new president and remains without a political figurehead that can pass legislation and finalize laws.

The Cabinet is reportedly near collapsing. Terms in office are being extended and elections for new leaders are put off. “The political deadlock is a huge contributing factor to the issue because there is no strong central government who can look at the options and find the most feasible one,” speculates Lama Bashour who is the director of an environmental consultancy agency called Eccocentra.

Residents claim that the government’s latest decisions have been undemocratic and unconstitutional, and have just exacerbated the country’s problems. “I’m angry, not just this, but at the general dysfunction of the country,” explains one of the city’s entrepreneurs. Some speculate that only radical actions could push the government to rule more effectively. All of the frustration and outrage surrounding this latest trash issue might be enough.

Some trash in rural areas has been removed but people report that it was just dumped somewhere else nearby. Sahar Atrache is an analyst that works for the International Crisis Group. She says that this half-hearted attempt is characteristic of Lebanon’s current government.

It is true that Lebanon’s resources and political power have been strained lately with the 1.3 million refugees estimated to pour into the country as a result of the Syrian crisis. The ICG recently published a report called Lebanon’s Self-Defeating Survival Strategies that explains, “Lebanon is surviving internal and regional strains remarkably well, but this resilience has become an excuse for tolerating political dysfunction.”

The city has been trying to deal with the matter on its own and has been starting to compost and recycle to keep waste build-up down. Some residents have begun their own local trash-pick up service.

Lillian Sickler

Sources: NPR, Crisis Group, UNHCR, LA Times, WSJ, ABC News, Times of Israel, Al Jazeera
Photo: NPR

sanctions on hezbollah
On July 22, the House of Representatives voted 404-0 to pass legislation that would introduce sanctions on Hezbollah and its foreign assets. Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States since 1995, and operates out of Lebanon. The sanctions aim to financially cripple the group, in turn protecting the Lebanese people from further poverty.

Hezbollah has played a critical role in the conflict in Syria. In April of 2014, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, boldly stated that the war had essentially ended. He asserted that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had regained control of the country and had won.

Nasrallah spoke as Hezbollah continued to intensify involvement in the conflict, fighting for Assad’s continued reign.

The reaction in Lebanon to Hezbollah’s involvement has been tense, as many fear it may carry the conflict back to Lebanon.

Even without the war taking place in Lebanon, the people feel the effects of the Syrian conflict. As hundreds of thousands of refugees pour into Lebanon, the economy is slipping.

“For each of the conflict years, we found that growth has been 2.9 percent lower than [had the conflict not happened]” Eric Le Borgne, lead Lebanon economist for The World Bank, explains.

IRIN reported in 2013 that 170,000 Lebanese were in danger of falling into poverty for reasons caused by the Syrian conflict. Lebanon is a small country, with a population of only four million, and cannot withstand the surge of 800,000 refugees.

The Syrian conflict, which has generated poverty and destruction outside its borders, not only in Lebanon, but also in other refugee-host countries, such as Afghanistan, has been escalated by foreign involvement. Hezbollah is one of the main contributors to the violence.

Furthermore, Hezbollah is known to be in close alliance with the Iranian government. Recently, Iranian news agency, Fars, published an article titled Iran Urges Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese Resistance Groups to Ink Defense Pact.

Effectively, this means that an attack on one of the groups from Israel would constitute an attack on all of them. The defense pact would heighten tensions in the region, and any attack on one group would involve multiple countries.

Analyzing the effects of the conflict in Syria on Lebanese poverty alone provides reason enough to avoid inflaming conflict.

The new sanctions passed in the House are an important step against poverty. The sanctions would specifically target Hezbollah’s foreign finances by allowing the Department of the Treasury to deny payable-through accounts in the U.S. through foreign financial institutions connected to Hezbollah activity.

The legislation would also allow the President to officially categorize Hezbollah as a foreign narcotics trafficker and transnational criminal organization in addition to its terrorist organization designation.

“Today we have the opportunity to place a critical blow to Hezbollah,” said Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the bill’s sponsor. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., compared these sanctions to the ones placed on Iran over its nuclear weapons development. Engel proposed that the current negotiations with Iran are happening because of the international sanctions.

“This can be done with Hezbollah. This is what we’re trying to do today,” he says, providing a beacon of hope for further peace in the region.

Julianne O’Connor

Sources: The Algemeiner, IRIN, The Guardian, The Hill
Photo: NYTimes

refugees in lebanon
While the current international focus in the Middle East has centered around Syria and the recent violence in Iraq, the impact of increased civil strife across the region will have serious implications for Lebanon.

The Syrian civil war has been going on for four years now, bleeding out into other areas as millions have been displaced from their homes. A huge influx of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Lebanon over the past several years, contributing to rising tension within Lebanon’s borders.

In order to escape the violence in their country, nearly 2.5 million Syrians have fled. There are currently over one million refugees in Lebanon alone; nearly half of the total number.

Lebanon’s current political system will not have a high tolerance for conflict as the country has just recently come out of a 15-year civil war.

The problem with Syrian refugees in Lebanon will come with challenges beyond the normal problems associated with displaced people. Refugees from Syria have the potential to increase sectarian violence among Sunni and Shiite communities. The Shiite militant organization Hezbollah supports Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This provokes violence in Lebanon from an outraged Sunni community. The Sunni faction ISIS has been taking advantage of a weak government in both Syria and Iraq in order to take control of areas in hopes of creating their own Islamic state.

When leaders of Lebanon’s religious factions lose control over their territories, historically, chaos breaks out. Attacks occur in the form of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings.

Apart from violence, the refugee overflow overwhelms Lebanon’s already fragile infrastructure. Water, electricity and waste management systems have the potential to break down. This could lead to a disastrous shortage of water and electricity which in turn would allow for the spread of disease and contamination.

The United States knows that preventing escalating conflict in Lebanon is necessary to avoid further violence across the region, and to decrease the likelihood of extremists groups expanding. Renewed conflict in Lebanon could also threaten Israel, a U.S. ally, if religious extremists groups continue to grow.

There is no easy solution to growing tension in Lebanon due to the increasing number of refugees. In order to avoid a renewed conflict in Lebanon, state institutions must be effective in calming the growing violence and tension between religious groups. Additionally, public healthcare and sanitation services must be enhanced.

According to Council of Foreign Relations Senior Advisor Monica Yaccoubiana, avoiding a conflict in Lebanon will take a huge effort to mitigate spillover effects of the Syrian conflict. These efforts must include ensuring humanitarian access to civilians inside Syria, working with the United Nations to improve access for aid groups, increase funding for assistance and initiating high level meetings between global political leaders and Lebanese officials in order to encourage consensus building and implement solutions.

– Caroline Logan

Sources: CFR, BBC, UNHCR
Photo: Al Jazeera

As of May 27, 1,029,779 Syrian refugees were registered and residing in Lebanon, creating a challenging situation in an already unstable country. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO,) a United Nations entity that has been active in Lebanon since 1977, is addressing an aspect of food security in agriculture through an on-going livestock vaccination campaign that addresses the needs of Northern Lebanon’s poor and rural farmers.

Since the on-set of the Syrian crisis, the influx of refugees has put a significant strain on the agricultural sector which is working to provide food security to both local people and refugee families.

In addition to the increase in demand for food and decrease in production due to the pressure from the refugee influx, many farmers in the Bekaa Valley in Northern Lebanon have not had adequate access to veterinary services or necessary animal medicine, feed and fertilizer for their livestock.

Bekaa Valley, one of the poorest areas in Lebanon where agriculture generates around 80 percent of local gross domestic product (GDP), hosts around 60 percent of the UNHCR registered refugees. Since most of the low-income families rely heavily on livestock for food security, an outbreak in disease would not only risk the health of the livestock and people, but also their livelihood.

Due to the conflict and the 250-300 cattle and goats crossing from Syria into Lebanon each day, the FAO began a nationwide vaccination campaign targeting Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs) such as foot & mouth disease, lumpy skin disease and ovine rinderpest. Beginning last summer and running through August 2014, it has been largely successful, reaching 70 percent of the livestock in Lebanon so far.

The program not only works to increase the number of sheep, goats and cattle vaccinated against important diseases, but also provides resources to ensure that livestock is adequately nourished and make sure farmers in communities that are hosting large refugee populations are still able to make a living.

As the on-going refugee crisis in Lebanon threatens to draw 170,000 more people into poverty by the end of 2014, it is important that investments continue to be made to promote agricultural growth, one of the most effective ways in reducing poverty. The FAO’s vaccination campaign is one step in securing the livelihoods of rural farmers in Northern Lebanon against potentially devastating livestock diseases.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Daily Star, IRIN News, United Nations, UNHCR 1, UNHCR 2
Photo: Wallsave

Yahya, a young man from Homs, Syria, unexpectedly became international news when he registered as the one-millionth Syrian refugee in Lebanon. The United Nations described this as a “devastating milestone” in the last three years of conflict. Another 2,500 refugees register every day, and it is estimated that another half-million unregistered are residing within the country.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative Ninette Kelley explained by publicizing the one-millionth refugee the U.N. wants “the world to see what it means to individuals, being torn apart by the Syrian conflict,” but also to “show what a tremendous burden the Lebanese people are bearing.”

Lebanon has a population of only four million, making it the country with the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world. Having a volatile history of its own, the Lebanese government foreshadows that this rapid influx could have dangerous consequences. UNHCR Antonio Guterres has stated, “The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering.”

A total of 2.6 million refugees have fled Syria to Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, meaning that soon, Afghans might not be the world’s largest refugee population anymore. Turkey, Iraq and Jordan have allocated land for the refugees, something the Lebanese government has not imitated. This means that the Syrian refugees in Lebanon often live in appalling slum-like conditions. It is typical to find people living in underground parking garages and under bridges where there’s no running water, electricity or sanitation.

Nearly half the refugees are children, and there are now more school-aged refugees than Lebanese children in state schools.

Aid workers have been restricted to dealing with only the most dire and extreme cases among refugees because the 2014 appeal for $1.7 million has only been 14 percent funded. “International support to government institutions and local communities is at a level that, although slowly increasing, is totally out of proportion with what is needed,” Guterres said.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources: Daily Journal, Reuters
Photo: Global Post

The Syrian conflict and ensuing refugee crisis continues to reach new heights, as Lebanon received its one millionth refugee. The nation of about 5 million people is now holding the equivalent of an additional fifth of their population. Resources continue to be strained and worries are raised over a sectarian conflict spreading in the region. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that Lebanon now has the highest refugee population per capita worldwide.

Unfortunately, the refugee influx into Lebanon has left no signs of slowing up. The UNHCR has recorded that the refugee influx has increased exponentially over the course of the conflict and has found that 2,500 new refugees are arriving in Lebanon every day. Until the end of the violence in Syria, it is not known when this crisis can become manageable.

Across all countries, the United Nations has recorded 2.58 million refugees, with extensive populations in Jordan and Turkey as well as Lebanon. The nations of Europe are starting to become more involved in the refugee process, taking some pressure off the limited resources in the Middle East. There remains little talk over peace negotiations between the two sides in the conflict.

World Bank estimates say that Lebanon has lost $2.5 billion in economic activity over the course of the Syrian conflict. As a result of this lost economic activity, 170,000 Lebanese are projected to be driven into poverty by the end of 2014. Meanwhile, 400,000 child refugees are starting to go into public school, but the current infrastructure will be hard-pressed to meet this population’s needs. Lebanese schools have taken in 100,000 refugees, but according to their ability to accept anymore will be “severely limited.”

Some outside groups have attempted to bolster the relief efforts for these refugees. Malala Yousafzai announced efforts to raise $500 million for the education of refugees in Lebanon. Also, the United Nations has appealed for $1.89 billion for this year in efforts to raise awareness. However, that initiative still is trying to get off the ground, as only $242 million has been raised so far.

The struggles of Syrian refugees has been written about extensively, yet, even as one of the most pressing humanitarian crises of the present day, it still seems to have had an underwhelming response from the world at large. Organizations like the Borgen Project encourage and advocate for these refugees but, while the West is beginning efforts to alleviate the refugee crisis, there is still too much being left by the wayside for the Syrian people.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: United Nations, CNN, Forbes
Photo: Flickr

The violence and sectarian clashes emanating from Syria’s three-year long civil war continued to spill over the border into neighboring Lebanon this week, as the death toll from clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the northern port city of Tripoli rose to nearly two dozen. Seven people were killed Friday, bringing the death toll to at least 21 since the sectarian-tinged fighting erupted last week.

Since the conflict broke out in neighboring Syria, there have been on-and-off clashes between residents of Tripoli’s Sunni district of Bab al-Tabanneh (which supports the Sunni insurgents battling the Syrian government) and the Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen (which backs Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime). The latest bout of fighting was sparked on March 21, when gunmen shot and killed a Sunni man who lived in an Alawite neighborhood and had Alawite relatives.

During Friday’s violence four civilians including an elderly man were gunned down by snipers, while eleven others were wounded. About 150 people have been wounded since the latest round of violence between the Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods erupted last week. Three people injured in earlier clashes also died Friday.

The Syrian civil war–which pit rebels from Syria’s Sunni majority against a government controlled by the country’s Alawite minority and supported by Shia Iran–has stoked Sunni-Shia tensions across the Middle East, and particularly in the sectarian tinderboxes of Iraq and Lebanon.

Shia Iran and its Lebanese proxy force Hezbollah have backed Assad, a longtime ally of both Tehran and Hezbollah, while Sunni gulf states and Turkey have supported the Sunni insurgents, buttressing the rebels through the provision of light weapons and cash.

The crackdown on the largely Sunni rebels by Assad’s security forces, who are supported in their campaign by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, Iran and Iraqi militias, has enraged the insurgents’ Sunni brethren in Lebanon and across the region. This anger reached a fever pitch last May, when Hezbollah, or Party of God, openly joined Assad’s campaign to crush the rebellion.

Hezbollah’s overt intervention in the Syrian civil war on the side of Assad’s regime began when the Iranian-backed Shia group sent fighters across the border to help the Syrian government retake the strategic border town of Qusair, which had been under the control of rebel forces since early 2012. Assad’s security forces, aided by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, were able to seize control of Qusair in early June following a three-week battle that enraged the Shia groups’ Sunni opponents in Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria’s sectarian conflict ushered in a violent period in Lebanon, as militant Sunni groups unleashed a wave of bombings against Hezbollah and Shia targets.

– Eric Erdahl

Sources: Reuters, Reuters, BBC, Al Jazeera
Photo: Naharnet

The Syrian conflict has continued for three years at this point and there seems to be little hope that it will be solved anytime soon. The conflict between Russia and the United States over Ukraine puts any future peace conferences in flux, and the attention of the international community has largely shifted to that part of the world. However, for the countries around Syria, the crisis there is still a daily ordeal with Syrian refugees flowing in from the beleaguered nation.

Lebanon has taken the bulk of the masses from Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict almost a million refugees have come into Lebanon and projections have that number going up to 1.5 million by the end of the year if nothing changes. A representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the influx “is equivalent to 80 million Mexicans arriving in the U.S. in 18 months… the largest per capita recipient of refugees anywhere in the world.” While Lebanon continues to generously take in the refugees, the influx has put a severe strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Studies done by the United Nations have shown that many of the refugees are settling in Lebanon’s poorest regions, where the least amount of assistance can be provided. This has left both the refugees and the Lebanese poor at a disadvantage, with little room for the country to move them.

One potential problem with this influx are tensions existing between the various religious groups in the area. Lebanon has a diverse religious population, but the many Sunni refugees coming in from Syria will upset the balance in Lebanon. With sectarian violence a key part of the Syrian conflict, worries are that tensions could erupt in Lebanon and put more people at a disadvantage.

The United Nations is trying to remedy these problems facing Lebanon. The UNHCR put out a call for $1.9 billion to help refugees in Lebanon, yet the agency still hasn’t come close to meeting that goal. Viral campaigns centered around pictures taken at refugee camps have served to attract notice, it sill has yet to be seen whether the campaigns will bring in more funding for the projects.

Lebanon might be the biggest location for Syrian refugees, but all the countries bordering Syria have been affected by the war. The World Food Program is planning to assist 2.9 million people in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. With 12,000 people coming into Lebanon a week, more help will be needed. The time to act is now, even as the countries of the West may be focused elsewhere.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: United Nations, The Daily Star, McClatchyDC
Photo: AlJazeera America