Lebanon, sinking deeper into political, financial, and health crises, has reached a dangerous dilemma with no solution in sight to save it from a painful tragedy.
The country may be under a strict lockdown to stem surging coronavirus cases, but father-of-six Omar Qarhani is still working in order to support his family.
“I’m not scared of the coronavirus, what scares me is being in need,” the 38-year-old told AFP, selling vegetables on the side of a road in the northern port city of Tripoli.
For the past two weeks, citizens affected by strict lockdown measures have voiced their anger against the 24-hour curfew and the closure of all businesses, which began on January 14th and is expected to last until February 8th.
Tripoli has drawn the largest crowd who feel forced to defy the lockdown rules and keep working. It is Lebanon’s second-largest city and one of the poorest in the Middle East, according to UN data.
People are protesting to work to be able to live day by day while. On the other hand, a highly dangerous situation has taken over the country as over 280,000 coronavirus cases and more than 2,400 deaths have stemmed from the disease since the pandemic began.
Security forces have set up checkpoints across the country to make sure Lebanese residents are complying with measures to protect the health sector and ease the overwhelming situation of hospitals around the country.
However, standing beside his vegetable boxes in Tripoli, Qarhani told AFP he was already barely making ends meet after he gave up his job at a flower shop to sell fresh produce.
“We need 70,000 Lebanese pounds a day to put food on the table, but this job only provides half,” he said, implying he was earning less than $8 a day at the black market rate.
According to the United Nations, half of Lebanon’s population is now poor, and almost a quarter of them live in extreme poverty. The labor ministry estimates that around half of the workforce lives off daily wages.
In the Beirut area, Naamat Masri Karout, a mother of 4 and owner of the Mazraat Al Masri for dairy products, told The961 that there is no more profit for business owners in Lebanon, as lockdown measures, as well as skyrocketing prices, have made it all around harder to gain a daily living.
“The state announced that they will provide financial aid for families in need back when Lebanon’s first-ever lockdown began. Fast forward a year later, we’re still in lockdown and no financial aid has been given,” Karout said.
The government pledged to distribute monthly payments of 400,000 Lebanese pounds (around $50 at the market rate) to some 230,000 families. The social affairs ministry has set up a platform for most impoverished people to register for help; those same people who have no access to technology or the internet.
In addition, the caretaker social affairs minister himself told Lebanese media on Tuesday that only a quarter of the population don’t need financial assistance. That leaves the majority, not only 230,000 families, in need for assistance.
According to Carmen Geha, activist and associate professor at the American University of Beirut, lockdown is a measure that works only when coupled with socio-economic and health strategy for all, “otherwise we are just locking up people who can’t afford to put food on the table.”
Lebanon has reached a dangerous and critical phase of its history, and only time will tell how the country will move forward.
Anger has started brewing critically against the state while those holding the fate of Lebanon are bickering over names and shares in a yet-to-be-seen government. Protests have erupted in various areas of Lebanon, notably in the northern capital which has turned into a warzone.