By now you must know about the recent blast in Beirut that tragically killed many people. But Lebanon has been struggling for far longer than that.
While much of the world has been focused on fighting a highly infectious disease, the people of Lebanon have been suffering through political unrest, a massive recession, a refugee crisi, and a famine. All of this on top of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lebanon’s economic situation has been steadily worsening over the last year. Since October 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost over 86% of its value. That’s the third highest inflation rate in the world. Prices of basic necessities have soared. On average, food prices have risen by 55%. And while prices are rising, so too are unemployment rates. Nearly a third of the population is currently living below the poverty line.
Because of this recession, Lebanon is now suffering through a massive famine. The country hasn’t experienced a famine this severe since the one in 1915, in which Lebanon lost half its population. And famine is not the only by-product of this recession – the country is also suffering immense political turmoil.
In October, the citizens of Lebanon began organizing large demonstrations protesting the government’s poor handling of the economic crisis. The protesters blame the recession on the ruling elite, whom they say are corrupt, and have continued to accumulate their own wealth, while failing to help the country out of its economic disaster.
People living in Lebanon have had to deal with frequent electoral fraud, limited public healthcare, daily power cuts, poor access to safe drinking water, and the absence of basic services like waste management. Citizens have been loudly demanding change for nearly a year.
In addition to these internal political struggles, Lebanon has also been dealing with tensions on the border with Israel, and with the influx of refugees from Syria. And on top of everything else, like the rest of the world, Lebanon has been dealing with COVID-19.
With the initial surge of coronavirus infections in mid-March, Lebanon went into lockdown. This forced anti-government protesters off the streets, but it also made the economic crisis much worse and exposed just how bad Lebanon’s social welfare system actually was.
As the price of goods rose further, many families were unable to buy even basic necessities. In May, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab warned that Lebanon was at risk of a “major food crisis”. He said: “Many Lebanese have already stopped buying meat, fruits and vegetables, and may soon find it difficult to afford even bread.”
This famine is growing worse every day, and is causing people to get sick, and making the threat of COVID-19 even worse. If there happens to be a second wave of the virus, people with compromised immune systems are far more likely to experience life-threatening symptoms.
All this is happening at a time when medical institutions in Lebanon are struggling to survive. The American University of Beirut Medical Centre (AUBMC) is a leader in Lebanese health care, and it has announced that it will lay off 25% of its staff – 1600 employees – because of the economic crisis.
So for an entire year, Lebanon has been facing threats from all sides: (1) political turmoil from within and from without, (2) an economic crisis leading to high rates of unemployment and poverty and the huge markup of necessary goods, and (3) widespread starvation and infectious disease with limited access to proper healthcare.
And now, as you know, the massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon's capital, has killed between 150-200 people, and injured more than 5,000 others.
The blast was large enough to be heard on the island of Cyprus, which is 240 km away.
The explosion sent shockwaves across Beirut, causing widespread damage even on the outskirts of the city. 300,000 people have been left homeless from the destruction.
Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients. Remember, these are hospitals that were already dealing with the unprecedented number of COVID-19 patients. The nearest hospital, Saint George, was destroyed by the blast. Doctors had to treat the injured in the hospital parking lot.
The explosion has caused $3 billions worth of damage in Beirut, but the country’s collective loss from the disaster is estimated at $15 billion.
Canada has been one of the most active countries in relief and donation efforts for Lebanon, having pledged $30 million in aid.
The Humanitarian Coalition is collecting additional donations from individual Canadian citizens, and the Government of Canada has announced that every dollar raised before August 24th will be matched by the government, up to a maximum of $5 million.
Because of this fundraising strategy, we Canadians are in a particularly good position to support. Please consider donating to the Humanitarian Coalition and to other organizations providing aid in Lebanon. Remember that every dollar you donate to the Humanitarian Coalition will be doubled by the Canadian government until August 24th.