Beirut, Minister of Social Affairs warns institutes and services risk survival
A collapsing country celebrates independence. In the last two months hundreds of thousands of citizens have crossed the threshold of extreme poverty. The cost of medicines skyrocket, like petrol and baby milk. Hector Hajjar: possible closures due to lack of funds, the depreciation of the lira weighs heavily. An AsiaNews' campaign in favour of Catholic schools.
Beirut (AsiaNews/OLJ) - Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have crossed the threshold of extreme poverty (1.5 dollars a day) in the last two months, following the total or partial cancellation of all concessions on the price of fuel and medicines. The price of 20 liters of gasoline is now equivalent to half the minimum wage (675 thousand liras), in a nation where the average salary varies between 1.5 and 2 million liras. Lebanon is on its knees, and today it is celebrating Independence Day.
On November 17, a new list of prices for medicines came into effect that took the Lebanese by surprise. This list includes medicines for chronic diseases, antidepressants and tranquilizers, as well as powdered milk for children. The cost of anti-cancer drugs, those for dialysis, incurable diseases and psychological diseases, used in public hospitals, remains unchanged.
"My mother is 89 years old, the monthly cost of her medicines has risen to now touch 2.34 million Lebanese liras, when they used to cost around 900 thousand. How will peoplewith salaries that do not exceed two million lire cope?" wonders a Lebanese man, who anonymously recounts his experience to L'Orient-Le Jour (LOJ), summarizing in a few words the suffering of millions of Lebanese. In less than a year, baby milk itself has not escaped the price hike: from an average cost of 13,000 liras, it has gone up to 95,000. The escalation of costs has also brought with it an increase in the rate of absenteeism in the public administration, even within the armed forces, as well as a strong wave of migration of young people.
The process of impoverishment is also impacting social institutions. More than 70 residents of a psychiatric center in the region of Jbeil, mistreated to the point of intoxication, were transferred last week to safer and healthier shelters.
According to the new Minister for Social Affairs, Hector Hajjar (in the photo), the majority of the country's social institutions are in crisis and at risk of closure. Many, abandoned to their own devices, deprived of all subsidies for over two years by the Ministry of Finance, affected by the depreciation of the lira which has lost more than 90% of its value, emptied of at least half of their employees, especially nursing staff, specialized educators and paramedics, are now operating on emergency survival mode.
According to the Minister of Social Affairs, the crisis, at the point it has now reached, affects at least 100,000 families, or about 500/700,000 people of all ages and social backgrounds, if we take the figure of six million for the Lebanese population at face value. And if we calculate between 5 and 8% the total number of needy people in Lebanon.
Hector Hajjar explains "due to the depreciation of the lira all the aid granted to these institutions by the State has lost at least 15 times its value. And today, not only is the budget foreseen for these contracts very insufficient, if compared to the needs, but since 2020 the funds foreseen have ceased to be disbursed at all. There is therefore a delay in payments of around 24 months".
The minister reveals that, due to the crisis, Fr. Afif Osseiran's free college and technical institute in Bauchrieh (Metn), an institution that provides vocational training to poor children "is on the verge of closing" after a decline that has lasted more than two years. "At the time of its founder, the institution offered a roof to about 150 'chicks'," a friend of this foundation tells us, who then points out that "it has long been a model of social action."
In the category of high-risk institutions, Hajjar also includes drug rehabilitation centers because the services they offer are long-term: hospitalization, detoxification treatment for one year and then accompaniment for three years. And the numbers, in this area, are on the rise.
In order to cope with this situation, the Minister of Social Affairs has drawn up a strategy of resistance to total collapse that includes, first of all, an accounting order that gives social institutions an exact, and incontrovertible, idea of what the State owes them, and the promise of a future liquidation of this debt.
"It's a matter of weeks," he assures. At the same time, Hajjar is negotiating with the association that brings together the credit institutions to increase the monthly ceiling of levies for social institutions.
In parallel, Hajjar is evaluating the revision of the amounts of the daily lump sums granted to social institutions. However, one of the minister's main aims is getting teh go ahead from international bodies to allow social institutions be assimilated to public hospitals.
"It would be a breath of fresh air - he admits - and in this way we could at least prolong the period of existence and resistance of these institutions".
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