Lebanon is having a rough couple of months.
On Thursday, October 14th, fighting broke out between Christian and Shia Muslim militias in the country’s capital of Beirut, killing at least seven and injuring many more. On the Saturday prior, the country was plunged into darkness for over 24 hours, as the country’s two largest power plants ran out of fuel. And, just three weeks before that, the Lebanese government hiked petrol prices by 66%, as part of an effort to remove central bank subsidies on the importing of fuel.
What is happening?
In regards to the fighting on October 14th, the violence is another event in a centuries long chain of sectarian violence, and the worst flare-up since a 2008 conflict. Lebanon’s current political structure – consisting of a legally enforced power sharing agreement between Christian, Shia Muslim, Sunni Muslim, and Druze groups in the country – has its modern roots in a 1990 peace agreement, which sealed a 15 year civil war. Most of the parties in Lebanon’s parliament today are continuations of armed groups which fought in the civil war, with some maintaining armed militias. This most recent bout of violence is linked to the investigation of the deadly blast in Beirut in August 2020. The investigator, an independent mediator, has the support of many families of victims, though not of the country’s main Shia Muslim parties, Hezbollah and Amal, who consider him to be biased. The two parties staged a protest on Wednesday, calling for his removal. The protest was attacked by unknown assailants, leading to fighting the next day between the Shia parties’ militias and a Christian militia group, Lebanese Forces. The country’s fuel issues, meanwhile, are rooted in governmental corruption and incompetence, alongside a financial crisis that has been haunting the country.
How did we get here?
These recent events in Lebanon come amidst over two years of chaos in the Mediterranean country. In August 2019, a financial crisis struck Lebanon, resulting from political mismanagement of the economy and the collapse of what was essentially a state-run pyramid scheme involving the country’s central bank. A set of austerity measures and tax hikes proposed by the government in October 2019, meant to right the ship, instead led to nationwide protest. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens came together across sectarian lines in order to demand the disassembly of the country’s power sharing system and political elite. The combination of crises eventually forced the resignation of then-Prime Minister, Saad Hariri. The country’s political system could not arrange a successor for three months, during which time the country’s economy slid into a sharp decline. An explosion at a port warehouse in Beirut on August 4th, 2020 further worsened the country’s situation. The human impact was devastating, with the explosion killing at least 217 people and injuring more than 7,000, while leaving around 300,000 displaced. Many saw it right to blame the government, as various negligent departments had passed around the liability for the explosive materials in the port warehouse for six years before the incident.
Another punch hit Lebanon in December 2020, as the country’s COVID-19 case rate began to spike due to a poorly thought-out holiday coronavirus restrictions break. By January 2021, the country’s healthcare system had been overrun, causing some individuals to be sent home due to lack of space. After the spike settled, Lebanon continued to cope with a declining economy. The country’s vaccine program has seen steady increases in vaccination rates since January, with around 20% of the country being vaccinated as of October 16th. However, the country’s healthcare system is still fragile, with charities stepping in to provide basic healthcare services in places. Fragile, too, is the country’s economy, as a new government, formed in September, looks to implement austerity measures in order to unlock relief funding from international banks.
Some, including many who protested in late 2019, see the new government to be as corrupt and incompetent as the ones which came before it, views bolstered by revelations that Lebanon’s new Prime Minister’s name appears in the Pandora Papers. Lebanon is now left in a state of distress, with an early October UN press briefing stating that 78% of Lebanon’s population is impoverished, and that a seventh of all Lebanese people need aid to access basic essentials. And, sadly, many of the people who protested to make their country a better place are now coming to terms with the fact that they will have to rebuild it for the better instead.
How can I help?
The main way that you can support Lebanon is through supporting NGOs on the ground in the country, many of which help to provide basic services that the government is unable or unwilling to provide by itself. If you’re interested in supporting any of the below listed causes and have the means to do so, or just want to learn more, you can follow the hyperlinks within this article.
The Lebanese Red Cross is a humanitarian non-governmental organisation in Lebanon. Currently, they are working to provide day-to-day healthcare and social care in communities across Lebanon. At present, they have a specific focus on supporting the country’s fight against COVID-19 and Beirut’s recovery from its devastating 2020 explosion.
Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, is a Switzerland-based non-governmental organization dedicated to providing healthcare services around the world to those in need. Currently, they are working in Lebanon to support the country’s healthcare system, both through supporting existing hospitals and operating their own. Please note; you cannot specifically donate to Doctors Without Borders’ efforts in Lebanon, as they only accept donations towards all of their international efforts.
The Lebanese Food Bank is a food bank in Lebanon working to provide food to those in need. They work primarily by collecting excess stock from supermarkets and restaurants for later distribution, both avoiding food waste and providing food to underserved communities.
Image credit: Free SVG