Voices: Our lives in Lebanon after the explosions

Voices: Our lives in Lebanon after the explosions
Source: Hasan Shaban

Lebanon is in an extreme crisis.

We entered a new lockdown this week which we’ve learned will now be extended to two weeks. New cases of COVID-19 are getting out of hand with the number of deaths very high compared to other countries.

But, in parallel to the coronavirus sweeping throughout the nation, we were and are continuing to face huge economic problems, problems that weren’t even encountered during the Civil War in the 1980s and 1990s. People can’t afford food, a place to stay, milk, even diapers.

We can start by talking about the devaluation of the Lebanese pound to the dollar. Let’s say an individual’s salary was 1,000 Lebanese pounds. Now, that amount is only worth US$200 dollars. This fall has been happening at a rapid rate and is only expected to continue. There are those who predict that we will get to the point where US$1 equals 50,000 Lebanese pounds or even 100,000 Lebanese pounds. This would ultimately mean that the minimum daily wage in Lebanon would be US$10 dollars or even less.

On top of the currency devaluation, the living costs in Lebanon just keep increasing. For example, a bag of diapers used to cost 15,000-20,000 Lebanese pounds but now cost 100,000 Lebanese pounds. If you get sick, you have to pay to go to the hospital, public schools not only aren’t free, they’re overcrowded due to our refugee situation. At the same time, private schools are extremely unaffordable.

The difficulty of this is further exacerbated by how abruptly the crisis unfolded.

In October 2019, the economy wasn’t good, but it wasn’t on a free-fall into the abyss.

Furthermore, we always knew that Lebanon was a politically corrupt country. This has never been a secret. Our speaker of the house is the same as the one from the 1980s. The same MPs and ministers just rotate among themselves. Even now after all our economic problems, after COVID-19, after the explosions, you see that those who are in power just don’t want to leave. They have enough for their families to live on comfortably for generations, yet they cling to power. Many are also in their 80s, approaching their 90s and facing health problems, yet they won’t leave their political positions.

During the Civil War, we had warlords who would arbitrarily stop people on the street and check their IDs. If they weren’t of a certain religion, they would just kill them. No mercy and no regard, they would just kill you. During this period, churches and mosques were bombed – it was a complete violation of human rights. These same people who decided to stop fighting then became our politicians.

As many people know, on August 4 of this year, multiple explosions occurred in the port of Beirut. These explosions destroyed half the city, killed hundreds and left with many more missing. Hundreds of thousands were injured. 300,000 were left homeless. 80,000 children were displaced.

The explosion was so big that it was heard and felt in Cyprus and Syria. There were reports of damage to properties from the explosions all over Lebanon, not just in Beirut.

The explosion destroyed half of the city including busy hospitals, which ended up causing people to have to deliver babies or be operated on while doctors were forced to use the light of their cellphones for lack of electricity.

The explosion also killed several foreign nationals including French, German, Canadian, American and Australian citizens.

I have a close friend, he sells desserts – cakes, cookies, that kind of thing – in a shop in Mar Mukhayel, Beirut. He spent all his savings building the place. He spent three years working really hard. All of that savings, all of that work – destroyed in mere seconds. Prior to the explosions, he was already facing financial problems because the general public doesn’t have the luxury of spending their hard-earned money on sweets. Now, after the explosions, his insurance will not cover anything.

“I think I should just sell everything I have and get a plane ticket to anywhere else in the world and try to start my life there,” he told me last time we spoke. “I do not want to build things in a country that can destroy it within seconds and no one cares about us in terms of government.”

Who is behind the explosions? I understand there are theories circulating but I think there are some obvious questions that remain.

Who could manage to get this huge amount of ammonium nitrate in Lebanon?

It couldn’t be the church or the hospital.

Who would need this amount of ammonium nitrate?

Who would be able to afford it?

Who would have the connections to be able to get it?

Who would have the capabilities to actually get it without running into problems with other governments?

Who would manage to keep it hidden in the center of Beirut?

Who would manage to keep anyone from seeing and reporting on it?

Over the years, Lebanon has asked the international community for assistance several times and received a lot of money. Unfortunately, these loans which the international community gave to the government and to our politicians resulted in minimal change.

The people of Lebanon are now begging the international community – do not channel any more general funds or donations through the government. Don’t even give the money to the banks – which have now imposed capital controls. Imagine this: NGOs receive US dollars and the banks turn around and refuse to release the funds.

Now, many NGOs are asking for donations in the form of cryptocurrency just to avoid the banks. By receiving Bitcoin donations, NGOs can bypass banks completely. No one can sanction this process, be locked out of their account and face arbitrary regulations. That is key because, since October of last year, banks have suddenly locked people out of their accounts. If you have millions and millions in your bank account, you’re now as wealthy as someone who has nothing.
Please ensure that any donations made go through verified NGOs in the country. Some of the main ones in the country include, Nusaned, Al Makan, Life Lebanon, Save Beirut, Irshad Islah, Social Work, Food Blessed, Lebanese Food bank, American University of Beirut and its Medical Center.

The author of this Voices story wishes to remain anonymous.

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