Lebanon needs urgent sanctions and aid to cope with crippling shortages
5 min read
Everything in Lebanon is running out: fuel, electricity, water, bread, internet, medication, cooking gas, medical staff, hope.
At a pharmacy in Paris last week, I pulled up the notes app on my phone that was carrying a list of medications and photos of prescriptions for people that I had never met before. The pharmacist shook his head in disbelief. “For Lebanon?” he asked, before I had a chance to explain my strange request.
The warlords-turned-political elite that have ruled Lebanon since the end of the civil war have mired the country in corruption and chronic mismanagement, rotting every sector from the inside out. Now, as the country collapses, they are refusing to form a government that will enact the anti-corruption reforms needed to unlock an IMF bailout package, as well as help from the UK, France and the US.
One pull at the string in terms of lifting banking secrecy laws and uncovering the depths of patronage networks could unravel 30 years worth of liability on the individuals who crafted the designed-to-fail system and siphoned from its resources.
More ways to provide aid - without passing through the government - and sanctions on the individuals blocking both government formation and the investigation into the Beirut explosion are needed for there to be any hope of pressuring change among the people driving Lebanon into the abyss.
For the majority of Lebanese, it’s like living under a siege imposed by the government. Except there is no war, just a political elite that are hell-bent on protecting their own interests as the country descends into a humanitarian disaster.
The electricity situation has become a matter of life or death. Most hospitals are surviving on two days worth of fuel at a time
In the past year, food prices have risen by over 550 per cent, while the local currency has lost 90 per cent of its value since the crisis began in late 2019. According to crisis monitors in the country, the cost of a basic food basket for one family is more than five times the national minimum wage.
By some estimates, at least 78 per cent of the country is now living beneath the poverty line. But even if you have retained some means during the crisis, getting through day-to-day life can seem like an impossible task.
How do you get to work when the queue for fuel is eight hours long and there is no public transport infrastructure? How do you drive around the country visiting endless pharmacies trying to find the medication that your family needs? How do you fuel your back-up electricity generator when the state can no longer afford to provide little more than an hour of power a day?
It is a game of mental gymnastics - and the job of a government - every single day before you can even start work. It can take an entire family to join separate hours-long queues for fuel, water, bread and cooking gas.
Then without fuel, there is no electricity.
While simply trying to sleep during August in Beirut without air conditioning can seem like hell, the electricity situation has become a matter of life or death. Most hospitals are surviving on two days worth of fuel at a time. There are endless warnings that patients on ventilators will die immediately if they run out.
It can easily take a trip to four pharmacies in Lebanon just to find paracetamol, let alone anything life-saving. Many cancer patients are being asked to secure their medication from abroad themselves before they can start treatment, and in a country already in the grips of a severe mental health crisis, psychotropic drugs are incredibly difficult to find.
Businesses of all types are falling like dominoes because they cannot afford black-market rate fuel to operate, or even keep the lights on.
Then without electricity, there are water shortages.
Bottled water companies can neither shape the plastic for bottles, or find the fuel to drive their supplies from the mountains to across the country. Even faucet water is set to be “severely” rationed in parts of the country with water pumps unable to operate without electricity.
UNICEF has warned that within days more than four million people - predominantly vulnerable children and families - “face the prospect of critical water shortages or being completely cut off from safe water supply”, increasing the likelihood of waterborne diseases and rising cases of Covid.
The most common phrases you hear in Lebanon today include: “we are living through hell”, “there is nothing left”, “our government is killing us”.
The World Bank has deemed Lebanon’s crisis a “deliberate depression” that ranks within the top three most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century.
It has been over a year since Lebanon has had a government - let alone anything that resembles the credibility to unlock desperately needed international aid. In the midst of a game of chicken between the political elite and the international community over who will stop the country from falling over the precipice, the people are paying an immeasurable — and increasing — price.
Abbie Cheeseman is a freelance journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon.
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