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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Lebanon’s civil unrest explained

Muslim Hands
Lebanon’s civil unrest explained

On Tuesday 4th August, a massive building explosion in the port of Beirut killed at least 220 people and injured more than 6,000 others. Over 100 people are still missing, and the death toll is expected to rise as emergency workers continue searching for victims in the rubble.

The blast destroyed three hospitals and damaged two more and more than 300,000 people lost their homes. The explosion would have been a disaster in any city. The loss of lives would have been tragic in any place but for the people of Lebanon, this explosion is the latest blow after years of adversity.

Lebanon has been suffering from the damages caused by conflict, an influx of refugees, widespread poverty, and now the Covid-19 pandemic. Mounting public anger and mass violent protests have forced the government to resign and Lebanon’s future now hangs in the balance.

In order to fully appreciate what is going on in Lebanon, it is necessary to understand the history of the country and the problems it has faced over the years. This article is a quick summary of some of the key factors that have affected the Lebanese people.

Economic turmoil

In recent months, Lebanese supermarkets have stopped putting price tags on food items, because they simply cannot keep up with the daily increases.  The price of staple foods like cereal has doubled in Lebanon, and supermarkets have begun rationing essential items.

Experts have warned that Lebanon is entering a period of hyperinflation, with year-on-year rates increasing by at least 500%. At the start of 2020, a third of Lebanese people were living below the poverty line, but this has increased significantly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Lebanon’s Minister of Finance has warned that by the end if 2020, more than 60% of the population will be living in abject poverty.  

Businesses have been forced to lay off staff and families struggle to afford basic essentials like meat, fruit, and vegetables. Most people don’t have enough to even buy a loaf of bread.

A lack of resources means everyday tasks are a continuous struggle. There is a severe lack of safe drinking water, power cuts happen every day and the country’s healthcare system is at the brink of collapse.

Marred by conflicts

As well as economic instability, Lebanon has also been dealing

More than 150,000 people died in the Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 1990, and a further 100,000 were permanently handicapped. Around a fifth of the population were displaced from their homes as a result of the war.  

In 1982, the Southern part of Lebanon was invaded by Israel and Beirut was temporarily besieged. After the war, Lebanon was temporarily occupied by Syria.

In 2006, there was a second war, this time between Israel and Lebanon, known as either the Second Lebanon War, the Israel-Hezbollah War, or the July War. As well as imposing a naval blockade, the war also damaged important infrastructure in Lebanon, including irrigation canals and an airport in Beirut.

There was an internal conflict between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, a radical Sunni group in 2007. Even though most of the conflict took place in Nahr al-Bared, a UN Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli, there were still clashes in southern Lebanon and bombings in and around Beirut. Desperate refugees at Nahr al-Bared fled to other parts of Lebanon, causing additional strain to the local economy.

In 2008, Beirut was the center of another conflict that nearly drove the country into civil war again. This time, pro-government and Hezbollah opposition militias clashed on the streets of the city and the fighting soon spread to other parts of the country.

As well as their own domestic wars, Lebanon was deeply affected by fighting from the civil war in neighboring Syria, which repeatedly spilled over onto Lebanese soil between 2011 and 2017. By the end of 2014, the Syrian crisis was estimated to have cost the Lebanon economy more than $7.5 billion.

 

An open door to refugees

Despite their economic struggles, Lebanon has welcomed around 1.7 million refugees over the years. Most come from Syria and Palestine and stay in refugee camps or informal tented settlements on the border, but others have moved inland.

The influx of refugees has had a negative impact on impoverished Lebanese families. As the economy has worsened, both sides have been struggling to cope with widespread poverty and dwindling food supplies.

Reactions to the Beirut explosion

Lebanon’s social welfare system has been unable to support those affected by coronavirus. As a result, violent protests began in April in Tripoli and several banks were set alight. Although the lockdown halted protestors, anger and frustration have continued to simmer.

Many argue that the explosion at the Beirut port was the final straw which pushed the Lebanese people to the brink. The majority were especially angry to hear that the explosion was intensified by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a potentially explosive material, which had been stored unsafely at the port for more than six years.

The consequences of the explosion – how you can help

The devastation at Beirut port will have huge long-term repercussions for the people of Lebanon. The country is reliant on imports and the destruction of its central port is a massive loss. Further food shortages are expected because six months’ worth of food, especially wheat, was destroyed in the fire, as well as half of the country’s medical supplies.

The people of Lebanon have already suffered so much and will not be able to recover from this disaster alone. Thanks to your generous support, our partners are already on the ground, distributing emergency packs directly to survivors.  

There are so many more people who require our help. Donate towards our Lebanon Emergency Appeal today and help us reach even more of them.


Muslim Hands ZA

Established in 1996, Muslim Hands South Africa is an aid agency and NGO aiming to help those affected by natural disasters, conflict and poverty. It is a branch of Muslim Hands UK established in 1993 in Nottingham.