The situation in Lebanon is distressing. Since the protests initiated in October 2019 against the attempted tax on the Whatsapp messenger app issued by Saad Hariri's government, the country is in free fall. The words are strong, but it would be a lie to try to sugarcoat the situation: the Lebanese are on edge and the government is unable to find sustainable solutions to improve the situation.
Whether from a social, economic, political or health point of view, Lebanon is undergoing a generalized crisis, and the Lebanese are the direct victims. Concretely, what is the situation in Lebanon at the end of August 2021?
I have been in Lebanon for 6 weeks now. Of course, I have only been here for a short time, but in a few weeks, I have at least been able to see the daily difficulties that the Lebanese are facing. As a volunteer of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient, we meet people from different backgrounds: men and women, children and elderly people, Lebanese living from the South to the North. When I arrived in Lebanon in mid-July, I did not expect to find a country in such difficulty. What strikes me most are the shortages: shortages of electricity, gasoline, water, as well as lack of access to basic necessities such as medicine, baby milk, and sometimes even bread.
First of all, electricity. Here, we should be thankful that we have a few hours of electricity per day. You can't imagine how many times a day we hear "fi karaba!" ("there is electricity!") or, more often unfortunately, "mafi karaba!" ("there is no more electricity"). A blackout spreads over Lebanon. The Lebanese are plunged into darkness. They can't turn on their fans, they can't plug in their washing machines, let alone charge their phones. The worst part is that these blackouts are very random. A power cut can occur at any time of the day, and for long hours.
In addition to this shortage of electricity, there is also a shortage of gasoline. In a country where the car is the only means of transportation, a generalized gasoline shortage is dramatic for the population. Indeed, in Lebanon there is very little public transportation. The few trains, that were in circulation during the French protectorate (1920-1943), are now completely out of service. Moreover, as the mountains occupy a very large part of the territory, the car is the almost exclusive means of transportation for the Lebanese. Thus, the 70% increase in the price of oil last Monday - following a partial lifting of fuel subsidies - represents a huge burden on the income of the Lebanese. The queues to fill up their tanks are endless and the Lebanese do not hesitate to set up roadblocks to force the tankers to put gasoline in the gas stations. These roadblocks often lead to big uproars like the tragedy of the tanker explosion on August 15 in the Akkar region which caused the death of at least 28 people.
We are also faced with this problem! The association being present in several regions of Lebanon, such as in the South towards Saïda and Lebaa, Tripoli, or Qaa at the Syrian border, it is currently difficult for us to go there and continue to work for the ongoing projects. Volunteers have to take turns regularly, which requires fuel and therefore a lot of patience!
To better understand the highly tense situation of these last months, I took the opportunity of the August 4, 2020 commemoration ceremony at the port of Beirut to meet as many Lebanese as possible who explained to me how they live the situation, or rather how they survive in this context.
I met Jad, a young man who was celebrating his 21st birthday on August 4, 2021, a very sad day for a birthday... Around us, the crowd is chanting "Saoura! Saoura!" ("Revolution! Revolution!"). The Lebanese feel that the situation is unjust and that they are only victims of a government that does not listen to them. "Regional conflicts and the large number of Syrian and Palestinian refugees further aggravate the social and economic situation. The political class is corrupted to the core and the leaders only seek to serve their own interests and those of their community, to the detriment of the Lebanese as a whole. With no prospects, we are all thinking of moving abroad," where the grass is greener.
For Joanna, a Lebanese woman in her forties, the basic problem is quite different! "The problem in Lebanon is that what defines us is not our country but our religion. A Lebanese will first tell you that he is a Christian, a Muslim or a Druze, long before he tells you that he is Lebanese."
Another major problem in Lebanon concerns the school. Between the coronavirus crisis and the economic crisis, it has been almost two years since most children have not gone back to school. If some parents have made sure to continue to educate their children at home, without electricity and therefore without a computer to follow the online courses, homework is quickly going out the window. Since August 4, 2020, 1.2 million children in Lebanon are not in school. The level of schooling is collapsing. In Beirut, we are in charge of teaching poor children in the Bourj Hammoud neighborhood. I remember, for example, a 12 year old Syrian refugee girl who could not read or write. This girl is not an isolated case.
To counter the crisis and help poor families, the donors of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient finance the school fees of many students, and also the salaries of teachers who are no longer paid because of the crisis. More precisely, SOS Chrétiens d'Orient has granted 26 950€ to the school of Dar Baachtar, 29 470€ to the school of Beithabbaket and 8 840€ to the school of Baalbeck.
Last but not least, the problem of lack of access to basic necessities such as hygiene products, infant milk and especially medicines is particularly serious. Too expensive, of course, but above all unavailable! Even the associations, we work with, are struggling to find them for redistribution. In Tripoli, the association "La Table du Love", which offers food packs to families in the neighborhood and prepares a hot meal for them 6 days a week, will now be forced to add hygiene products and baby milk to the packs. More than 70% of Lebanese women cannot afford to buy sanitary protection. But what is lacking most of all is medication, for blood pressure, diabetes, and heart problems. We become aware of this during our visits to the poorest families. Each time, the same requests: medicines.
In Tripoli, I entered a pharmacy by chance. At first, I simply went there to ask them to give me some change. Inside, there was nothing left but covid masks and disinfectant... Some Lebanese tried to stock up when they could, but not all. The vast majority of people are thus faced with a vital need for access to medicines. Yes, we are clearly talking about life and death here. For example ...
At the end of July, at the Maronite monastery of Mayfouk, in Mount Lebanon, I met Brothers Abdou and Eli. Between two activities, at coffee time, Brother Abdou tells me some terrible news. His uncle, although still young, died last month because he could no longer find the medicine to treat himself. Brother Abdou is worried. His father is in the same situation today: in a few weeks, he will no longer have access to the lung medication he needs to take daily.
"The Lebanese do not deserve what is happening to them." This sentence comes from the mouth of Karim Kanaan, a Lebanese man we met in Jezzine. Having studied at the Ecole des Mines in Paris, he is an engineer by training. But today, faced with the context, he sells strawberries: "Selling strawberries brings me more money than selling building permits". I leave you with this sentence of Karim which says a lot about the crisis situation that Lebanon is going through. A country that is so beautiful, and populated by men and women who have a true sense of hospitality.
In conclusion, I advise you to buy Karim's strawberries, they are excellent.
Hortense, volunteer in Lebanon.