Sheikh Bahaa Hariri wrote to “Arab News”
Lebanon historically has been associated with commerce, culture and tradition. The “Switzerland of the Middle East” was a land of beauty, with a strong financial sector and stable governance. I do not recognize my country today. One word encapsulates the state of affairs in Lebanon: Crisis.
Chief among this is the economic crisis, which affects every aspect of life in the country. The World Bank has called it one of the worst crises on the planet since the mid-19th century. Inflation has seen the price of everyday goods soar, with the consumer price index increasing by more than 208 percent, while the cost of food and drink has risen by 670 percent. Meanwhile, salaries are becoming increasingly worthless by the day. Even the military is unable to pay our soldiers, eroding Lebanon’s last pillar of stability.
My country has also suffered from a familiar public health crisis. On top of battling the pandemic, the shortage of fuel in Lebanon presents a new challenge for hospitals in keeping COVID-19 patients alive. The economic freefall has also hit medical supplies. Like our military, health professionals are fleeing the country as the value of their paychecks shrinks. The public is praying for an end to the pandemic, and for vaccinations. But while they wait for salvation, the elites jump the queue for lifesaving jabs.
And then there is the political crisis. Lebanon has been paralyzed without a government for over a year, while self-serving politicians squabble in presidential palaces. Prime minister designates come and go, while the country starves.
Hezbollah plays war games on the Israeli border, threatening to take the country into a conflict that the population completely opposes. Warlords fire rockets into Israel — stunts costing thousands of dollars that should be used to support the poorest in society.
Then there are the tragedies, avoidable tragedies that are tearing families apart. On Aug. 4, 2020, hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut port, killing 218 innocent people.
To commemorate the anniversary of the blast, I lamented Lebanon’s “never-ending cycle of suffering.” Little did I know that just over a week later we would be mourning again, this time for the 28 who died in the Akkar fuel tank explosion in the north of the country. Again, victims of negligence and man-made crises.
It is easy to lose faith when discussing the string of crises Lebanon faces, the masses living in unacceptable conditions or without a fair paying job, the babies going hungry, and the elderly who have seen their savings wiped out. It is easy to get angry at those who have orchestrated the crises — the corrupt officials, power-hungry politicians and blind fanatics — for they are the worst of humanity.
‘On World Humanitarian Day, I want to celebrate those who have not given up on Lebanon.’
But on World Humanitarian Day, I want to celebrate those who have not given up on Lebanon — the best of humanity. In the absence of functioning public services, which is the responsibility of the government, we can take comfort in the strength and selflessness of the Lebanese people. Communities are nobly coming together to help one another.
All across Lebanon, we hear stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Even amid the horror of the Beirut port blast, the Lebanese showed the world who they really are. Among those killed were firefighters who gave their lives trying to keep us safe. Ten firefighters — Najeeb Hati, Charbel Hati, Ralph Malahi, Charbel Karam, Joe Noun, Rami Kaaki, Joe Bou Saab, Elie Khouzami, Mathal Hawa and Sahar Fares — made the ultimate sacrifice, and will never be forgotten.
Ordinary Beirut residents offered shelter to neighbors whose homes were destroyed, and cleared rubble from the roads to make way for ambulances. Organizations such as Sawa Li Lubnan continue to support communities affected by the blast and worsening economic crisis. During Ramadan, Sawa collaborated with 200 volunteers to distribute over 10,000 food boxes to families facing financial hardship and food insecurity.
Lebanon’s friends in the international community have also remained by our side. At least $370 million was raised by donors during a recent international conference, while hundreds of thousands of vaccines have been donated. Following the Akkar tragedy, Kuwait and Jordan were quick to fly in medical supplies, to ensure our healthcare system did not collapse under the pressure of another explosion. The UN has also played its part, with a development program helping municipalities across Lebanon to professionalize their municipal police and capacity to serve their communities.
While these stories are a welcome relief from the tales of corruption and neglect, the best humanitarian aid the Lebanese can receive is a new generation of leaders to put the country back on track.
That is why Sawa Li Lubnan has expanded its operations from giving communities food parcels to offering them a path to recovery. A clear alternative to the current establishment, the organization’s mission is to create a non-sectarian system that will root out corruption and deliver economic prosperity. They are visionaries, challenging the political elites who are presiding over a Lebanon in decline. This will take time, but I am confident that Lebanon’s future is brighter than where we are today.
In the meantime, what Lebanon urgently needs is a government of experts, one that can unlock International Monetary Fund support that will slam the brakes on the economic freefall. A fully functioning government can take the baton from the heroes and humanitarians who have kept the flame of Lebanon burning in our darkest hour.