Lebanon's New Poor Face Long-Term Economic Insecurity

    10 December 2022

    Lebanon is a former middle-income country, one that is neither rich nor poor. But its financial system collapsed in 2019.

    The collapse led to a great drop in the value of the Lebanese pound. And the United Nations says that event has led four out of five Lebanese people to become poor.

    State services have broken down. Financial support to reduce the costs of goods has been removed. And tens of thousands of Lebanese have left the country seeking jobs in other countries. It is the biggest emigration wave since the 1975-1990 civil war.

    Unemployed Lebanese Hussein Hamadeh speaks during an interview with Reuters inside his home in Beirut's southern area of Ouzai, Lebanon on November 15, 2022. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
    Unemployed Lebanese Hussein Hamadeh speaks during an interview with Reuters inside his home in Beirut's southern area of Ouzai, Lebanon on November 15, 2022. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

    Lebanese political leaders admitted that the crisis was the result of many years of wasteful spending and corruption. And the World Bank called the crisis a "deliberate depression" created by those with political and financial power.

    Now, economists say it will deepen if politicians delay passing reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund (or IMF) in April. The passing of these reforms is required to unlock billions of dollars in aid.

    However, public pressure for reform has largely passed. The pressure was at its highest during the 2019 protests and after the August 2020 Beirut explosion. The political parties that have ruled for much of recent history still won the greatest number of seats in May's parliamentary elections.

    Mohammad Chamseddine is a policy expert at Beirut-based Information International. He said, "The Lebanese people accept and become used to all the economic, political and security conditions."

    He noted that many now live on aid and the few hundred dollars their relatives working in other countries send back home each month, called remittances. The flow has increased as some 200,000 people have emigrated since 2019, he said.

    Meanwhile, basic state functions are increasingly supported by international aid sent to prevent total state failure. The World Food Program alone supports a third of the country's 6 million people with food and money aid. Hospitals, schooling, and even security services are increasingly financially supported by international aid.

    The economy has become a two-tier system. Those with money are known as the "fresh dollar class." They eat at restaurants or send their children to the best schools. And those who earn in the local Lebanese pound only have enough for simple needs.

    One such Lebanese is Hussein Hamadeh. The 51-year-old is unemployed and unable to support his family of four. His two daughters studied in the light that came through a window at their unlit one-bedroom home.

    Hamadeh said, "I have a very pessimistic view of the future. I take each day as it comes, there is no future for me."

    A study by Gallup released last December found that some 63 percent of Lebanese said they would leave the country if they could.

    I'm Gregory Stachel.

    Timour Azhari and Laila Bassam reported this story for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    deliberate – adj. done or said on purpose

    tier – n. a particular level in a group or organization

    pessimistic adj. having or showing a lack of hope for the future