Hunger is everywhere in Lebanon, inflation is flying high, the middle class evaporates and the already poor are starving. Refugees and migrants are being hit the hardest and the COVID crisis only makes things worse. All of this comes on top of the already existing widespread corruption and a shrinking space for activists. Despite all of this PAX and partners continue their work. One of the key issues: the COVID aid should not come at the expense of peacebuilding and human rights funds. And much, much more is needed to get out of this crisis.
Some background information
Lebanese took to the streets in October 2019, demanding an end to the endemic corruption and mismanagement of their country. Under public pressure, prime Minister Saad Al Hariri resigned after weeks of protests. The newly appointed PM Hassan Diab and his government have not yet been successful in implementing the necessary reforms. This combination of government malpractice, an ongoing and worsening economic crisis and the COVID pandemic is currently leading to enormous risks of social instability, increasing tensions between communities, poverty and hunger.
Over the past months, the situation in Lebanon has dramatically deteriorated. The Lebanese Lira is rapidly devaluating with the currency losing more than 80% of its value since October 2019. The World Bank estimated in 2019 that 48% of Lebanese are living below the poverty line, those numbers are rapidly increasing in the current situation.
Rising number of suicides
The devaluation result in loss of savings and purchasing power. The middle class is completely vanishing, and the already poor and marginalized communities are starving and under enormous pressure. Over the past weeks the number of suicides is rising. Friday 3 July, a man shot himself in the middle of a popular street in Beirut. He left a note: ‘I am not a heretic. But hunger is heresy.’ This incident was reported widely as it happened in the middle of Beirut. However, PAX partners report these incidents happening in their communities in Tyre and Tripoli as well. As is often the case, this crisis hits the most vulnerable communities hardest: refugee and migrant communities don’t enjoy civil rights and are tossed aside as garbage. The harrowing images of migrant domestic workers being dropped off at their embassies speak larger than words. With resources diminishing, competition over resources will increase and as a result, tensions between the most vulnerable communities are expected to rise.
International support is lacking
Lebanon is awaiting international bailout. Talks with the IMF for international support are currently not going anywhere. In addition to the absence of trust in the Lebanese government to address the crisis, international actors are also hesitant to invest money as states are dealing with additional investments to combat the impact of COVID-19 nationally. Lebanon has been doing relatively well in combating the COVID pandemic, but is currently witnessing an increase of cases. A massive outbreak in the numerous refugee camps has not happened yet. However, people fear that once more cases are confirmed in (over)crowded places, discrimination against Syrians and Palestinians will increase as politicians will increasingly scapegoat refugees.
Get structural reforms going
The multiple crises that Lebanon is challenged with require restructuring of the manner in which the Lebanese government and the institutions are operating: tax systems and redistribution mechanisms, accountability and transparency mechanisms, public service delivery restructuring (waste management, access to water), independent judiciary and reforming the electricity sector. While reforms are urgent and necessary, peaceful and sustainable change takes time. It is paramount that measures are conflict-sensitive: taking into account the impact on conflict drivers and social cohesion while being responsive to the needs of particularly the most marginalized communities in society. In the current sectarian system and with the current government, there are no clear solutions in sight. Communities throughout Lebanon are paying a heavy price for this mismanagement.
What PAX does
Within these difficult circumstances, PAX and partners are working on the following issues:
- As part of the Refugee Protection Watch coalition, PAX advocates for the additional COVID-19 aid to be distributed in a conflict sensitive way. Such aid should not come at the expense of peacebuilding and human rights funds, read more;
- PAX partner Tiro Association for Arts uses arts and culture to create the space for young people, from different communities and backgrounds, to engage in culture and arts, combating racism, and the increasing isolation due to the lockdown measures because of COVID-19, see more;
- PAX partner ALEF, as part of a coalition protecting Freedom of Expression in Lebanon, addressed the increasing shrinking of space for activists and civil society to voice critical concerns about the way the country is managed, read more;
- PAX and ALEF submitted a human rights review on these same issues (freedom of expression and civic space) to the UPR (universal periodic review). Lebanon’s UPR session is tentatively planned for later this year. This is the moment the UN Human Rights Council (Geneva) convenes to review Lebanon’s human rights record.