One year after the catastrophe that devastated the port of Beirut, Lebanon remains in a political and economic coma. Four prime ministers have come to power in the past year without any of them managing to form a stable government. With hardly any medicines or basic foodstuffs in pharmacies and supermarkets, and with the Lebanese pound devalued by 90% against the dollar and inflation exceeding 20% over the last few years, Lebanon is in a disastrous economic situation after being forced into bankruptcy.
The bad times have hit this Levantine country of 4.5 million inhabitants, which is facing a triple crisis: health, economic and socio-political. While anger prevails against a ruling class that has since failed to form a government, the confrontation between the political class is keeping a society on tenterhooks as it waits for the formation of a government to be able to access the international aid it so desperately needs, while the international community refuses to revive its bankrupt economy unless drastic anti-corruption reforms are implemented.
The amalgamation of religions and cultures has led to a fragmentation of economic activity to satisfy the different factions that coexist within Lebanon's borders, resulting in a dysfunctional economic system. Lebanon has the highest public debt in the world, at over 170% of GDP. The government declared in early 2020 the first default on its financial commitments in the country's history by failing to disburse $1.2 billion. Banks have gone so far as to impose their own capital controls, in the absence of clear regulation by the Lebanese Central Bank. They are not allowed to withdraw more than 300 dollars a fortnight in a highly dollarised economy and with a highly devalued Lebanese pound. Even so, importers will be able to access the US currency at a price well below its current value on the black market, where for weeks it has been around 20,000 units for one dollar, and the state will cover the difference through its budget allocation for 2022.
Power cuts, lack of drinking water and petrol shortages have become part of the daily routine for many of the country's citizens. Nearly empty refrigerators in many homes are the picture that perfectly sums up Lebanon's economic collapse, which has plunged much of the population into precariousness. Government electricity only reaches Lebanese homes for one or two hours a day, while the companies that operate private electricity generators ration supplies due to a shortage of fuel to run them.
Electricity production is barely enough to cover 25% of the country's supply needs, while the Central Bank of Lebanon advanced that it was unable to continue to support fuel imports, which implies lifting subsidies. Security forces have been carrying out a series of raids on gas stations and warehouses suspected of withholding their stocks to sell them at much higher prices when the subsidies are lifted, a campaign during which millions of litres were seized.
The Mediterranean country is suffering one of the worst economic crises of the 21st century, according to the World Bank, and has generated a supply crisis that affects most of the population and prevents them from carrying out the most basic tasks. Severe fuel shortages have led to long lines at gas stations, prolonged blackouts and business closures. The crisis has exacerbated social inequality in a country (of six million people, including 1.5 million refugees) where 5 per cent hold more than 65 per cent of the wealth and five of the six Lebanese fortunes on Forbes magazine's 2019 list are politicians.
Long gone is the idyllic image of a Lebanese orchard coloured in shades of green and blue, rich in vegetation and fresh water. Water is running out in Lebanon where public water services are limited to three days a week, tap water is undrinkable, forcing people to buy bottled water, and every building has tanks installed that are supplied by trucks. The demand for water in Lebanon is 1.8 billion cubic metres per year, an amount that neither the rivers nor the groundwater wells, overexploited and mortally wounded by the persistent drought, can cope with at this rate of supply in the face of an ever-growing population. The land of cedars has been through many crises, some of them long and dramatic. There is hardly any fuel in the petrol stations or medicine in the pharmacies, and public services have collapsed. For the past year, attempts to form an executive in Lebanon have collapsed in sectarian disputes between its 18 ethnic and religious communities, while the economy has been in meltdown.
In a country heavily dependent on imports, the impact of this depreciation is being keenly felt. Prices have soared while thousands of businesses have gone bankrupt or laid off many of their employees. The picture remains apocalyptic in Lebanon one year after the Beirut port tragedy. The collapse of the currency, rising inflation, coupled with this explosion and the coronavirus pandemic, have exacerbated political tensions in a nation heading towards a failed state.