I have just returned from my second trip to Lebanon and Syria this year. I previously visited in May, and in the course of a few months I have witnessed a precipitous decline in the wellbeing of the people of both of these countries.
Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, seemed rather normal and tranquil in May but is now completely dark at night, due to a lack of electricity. There are only a few hours of sporadic electricity a day throughout the city. Meanwhile, fuel is nearly impossible to come by, with lines of cars spanning at least a kilometer waiting for gas. A number of my friends told me that they could not drive to meet me because they had no fuel for their vehicles.
There is also little to no garbage service, and so the streets and sidewalks are lined with trash. In what was once dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’, I witnessed goats roaming the streets in search of garbage to eat on the side of the road. The Lebanese lira has tumbled in value daily, with menus at restaurants that were still able to operate displaying prices written in pencil so they could be changed every morning. As I write these words, the lira is now worth 0.00066 US dollars. A number of truly exasperated people stated – with a swoosh of the hand in the air – that “Lebanon is finished.” And it certainly feels that way.
Everyone in Lebanon I talked to wants out of the country; some even asked if I could take them with me. The possible exception is the mass of Syrian people who have fled the war in their own country. Many of these Syrians now live on the streets in Beirut. It is very common to see Syrian women with their children sleeping on the dark city sidewalks. According to UNICEF, there are nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, putting further strain on a social system which is unable to take care of its own people.
Syria is also suffering from a lack of electricity, with power for only a few hours a day, and food and vital medicines are hard to come by as well. Personal protective materials necessary to protect against Covid – such as masks and hand sanitizer – are almost non-existent.