08/20/2020, 13.09
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Covid-19 gives the coup de grace: 55% of Lebanese are now below the poverty line

by Pierre Balanian

A UN study published yesterday says that the poverty rate has doubled in one year; the number of people at risk of extreme poverty has tripled. Yesterday, in the space of one day, there were 589 new infections from Covid-19 and two deaths. The total number of positive cases is 10347. People prefer to buy bread and not surgical masks. The "In aid of devastated Beirut" campaign continues.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The new year of Hegira that began yesterday seems as difficult as the Year Domini 2020. The Land of Cedars is again paralyzed due to the rapid spread of new cases of Covid 19: yesterday, in the space of a day there were 589 new infections and two deaths.

In a country that has 6 million inhabitants, the total number of infected has risen to 10347. Since 4 August - the date of the port explosions - 3500 new cases have been registered.

The virus has found fertile ground thanks to political turmoil, demonstrations and clashes, and then by parties and crowds on the beaches to distract the people from Lebanese hell. 

Then came the explosions, the resignation of the government, the demonstrations oblivious to social distancing.

The country continues to sink under a four-fold crises, now defined "The 4 pillars of the collapse of Lebanon": the unprecedented economic crisis; the Covid-19 crisis; the crisis caused by the explosions; the endless political crisis with the resignation of the government.

Between 14 August and 7 September, the country will once again be under total confinement with the closure of all offices and businesses, with the exception of supermarkets, greengrocers, butchers, bakeries and pharmacies. Public transport has been blocked, religious and social celebrations, public pools and baths and a ban has been issued on going to beaches.

Tripoli mayor Riad Yamak, one of the poorest cities in the country, says: “This time it will be difficult to enforce the directives. People are hungry and day labourers cannot be forced to stay at home without assistance. But the municipality does not have the means to do so”.

Bashar Khodr, governor of the province of Baalbek and Hermel, is of the same opinion and he ordered the municipalities to organize the markets themselves, managing the arrival of wholesale goods and distribution to shopkeepers, according to the precautions indicated by the Ministry for Health. Public office staff will work part-time in two shifts, with 50% of staff at a time.

The fine of 50,000 lire (about 6 US dollars) for those who do not wear masks in public has been in effect in Lebanon for over three months, but many prefer to buy bread, which costs as much as a cheap mask.

The necessary confinement risks worsening the dire financial situation of the country with people now beyond the limits of endurance and economic deprivation.

Lebanese hospitals, 4 of which were seriously damaged after the explosions, are now unable to guarantee treatment and respirators for the large number of patients.

According to a UN study, published yesterday by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), over 55% of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty ceiling (last year it was 28%); Compared to last year, the rate of people threatened with extreme poverty has multiplied by three, from 8 to 23%.

“Lebanon - the study reads - is suffering from the effects of many shocks that continue to affect its economic development. Among the strongest, we cite the dangerous increase, recorded recently, in the cases of contamination from the Covid-19 pandemic; the explosion that caused the death of over 200 people (another 3 corpses were extracted from the rubble yesterday), destroyed the port of Beirut and many deposits of food and vital necessities, caused appalling destruction in large areas that housed residential and commercial centres. These disasters aggravate a previous, deep-rooted economic crisis by increasing acute poverty and reducing the Lebanese middle class”.

Added to all of this is the total absence of investments from the Arab countries of the Gulf and the stop of tourism. The country now pays the bill for the strategic error of 1990, when the then government of former premier Rafiq Hariri decided to rebuild the new Lebanon after the civil war, on an economic foundation based on banking, tourism and services, at the expense of industry and agriculture.

The middle class, which represented the majority of the Lebanese population, is disappearing; but even the wealthy are not saved: the so-called aristocratic class or rich has also been reduced by a third; in one year it shrunk from 15 to 5% of the population.

There are now 2.7 m Lebanese threatened with extreme poverty while the number of young people who are seriously thinking of emigrating definitively from this country, much loved, but which has become the cemetery of all expectations, is increasing.

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