Amid so many troubles around the world, the crisis in Lebanon has received relatively little attention, especially from British politicians and the media. This is a serious oversight. It is not inconceivable that Lebanon will soon become a “failed state” on a par with Libya or Yemen. That would be a disaster for its people, but also, as recent history shows, for the region, Europe and the UK.
The crisis has many aspects. The most urgent is the rising human cost. The chronic devaluation of the Lebanese pound, which has lost around 90% of its value in the past 18 months, is taking a terrible toll on ordinary families. About 30% of Lebanese children go to bed hungry, says the UN. Most households are short of food. At least half the population has fallen into poverty.
The resulting hyperinflation, caused by adverse business conditions during the pandemic, but also by irresponsible financial mismanagement By Lebanon’s politicians and bankers, it means that subsidies for essential food, medicine and fuel no longer cover their true cost. People with life-threatening illnesses like diabetes or heart conditions cannot get the help they need.
More than 30% of the workforce is unemployed. Those who work see the value of their wages plummet. Retiree savings are evaporating. Added to the misery caused by the shortage of imported goods are regular power outages. Unicef warns the neglected public water system he’s “on life support.” Its collapse would put 71% of the population, more than four million people, at immediate risk.
The ramifications of the crisis were much more widespread. Lack of security and increasing lawlessness are of growing concern. The army wants $ 100 million just to meet the immediate needs of its 80,000 soldiers. A. average monthly salary of a soldier before the crisis it was worth the equivalent of $ 800. Now it costs around $ 80. The army is reportedly struggling to patrol the borders with Syria and Israel due to a lack of fuel.
This, in turn, fuels fears that terrorists may exploit the situation through cross-border attacks and arms smuggling. Last week, rockets were fired in Israel, prompting a brief military retaliation. By calling for reinforced border defenses, the Israeli army fears that the Lebanese state could fracture into sectarian fiefdoms with Hezbollah controlling Shiite areas in the Beka’a valley and the south.
A Lebanese implosion could also have dire consequences for the unfinished conflict in Syria and the ongoing shadow war involving Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. It was reported last week that some Syrian refugees are heading home, so bad has the situation in Lebanon become. A national collapse could trigger huge refugee outflows affecting Turkey, EU countries and the UK.
All of these aspects of the unfolding tragedy in Lebanon reinforce the case for sound political action. But if the Lebanese agree on one thing, it is that their politicians at war, corrupt and incompetent are the main culprits of the crisis. Earlier this month, in the midst of relatives fights and pointing fingers, the senior leaders again failed to agree on the formation of a new government.
Power-sharing arrangements between the Lebanese Maronite, Shiite and Sunni communities were taken as a model. But this system, which kept the country’s elites happy at the expense of the national interest, has not worked well for years. The deadly explosion that devastated the Beirut port area almost exactly a year ago, and the subsequent failure to punish those responsible, darkly symbolizes this endemic political incapacity.
In the absence of new ideas and flexibility, politicians hope that next year’s elections will provide a way out. But the crisis is now, it is urgent and it cannot wait. For the good of the Lebanese people, and in obvious self-interest, the international community, and that includes the too-quiet Britain, must take the initiative. A. UN-backed conference France’s host in Paris on August 4 may be the last chance to save Lebanon from total disaster.