Secoué par une crise sans précédent, le Liban est au bord de la famine

Son pib par habitant s’est contracté de 40% en deux ans, les prix des aliments
se sont envolés de 2067% depuis fin 2018. Selon la Banque mondiale, 78% des
Libanais vivent désormais sous le seuil de pauvreté.

Si le monde entier a été frappé par l’explosion du port de Beyrouth, le 4 août 2020, la catastrophe a aussi été le révélateur d’une crise majeure . Une des trois pires depuis 150 ans, dit le FMI. L’agence Bloomberg vient de décerner au Liban la palme mondiale de l’inflation, poin ant que la livre a perdu 92,27% de sa valeur en deux ans. Le 13 décembre, la presse s’alarmait : “Les prix de l’alimentation ont augmenté 2067% depuis fin 2018”.

“La plupart des habitants manquent de l’essentiel, observe Roula Helou, dont
l’ONG qu’elle co-préside L’AVT-L (association des victimes du terrorisme, Liban),
s’est mise, en plus de l’habituel soutien psychologique, à distribuer de
la nourriture. Les aliments de base, y compris le pain, sont devenus inabordables.
Beaucoup d’enfants se couchent la faim au ventre. Les malades, eux, ne
peuvent plus se soigner.” Chef du l’unité d’oncologie pédiatrique de l’hôpital
beyrouthin Saint George, le docteur Peter Noun confirme: il n’a plus de quoi
préparer la chimiothérapie nécessaire à sa cinquantaine de jeunes patients.

Selon la Banque mondiale, 78% de la population vit désormais sous le seuil de
pauvreté, 34% dans l’extrême précarité. La classe moyenne a disparu, les filets
de sécurité ont explosé. 1,5 des 4,5 millions d’habitants du pays disposent
de moins de 4 dollars par jour pour (sur)vivre. Même l’armée compte sur Washington
pour boucler ses fins de mois et régler la solde de ses troupes.

Jadis surnommé “la Suisse du Moyen Orient”, le pays, est aujourd’hui menacé
de famine . “Il a connu des crises et des guerres, observe un haut fonctionnaire.
Mais pour la première fois il ne peut nourrir son peuple.” Les journaux
évoquent des familles de plus en plus désespérées du lendemain. “Le PIB a
chuté de moitié depuis dix-huit mois”, abonde Alain Bifani, ex-directeur général
du ministère libanais des Finances, qui avait démissionné à l’été 2020,
désespéré que tout plan de redressement soit empêché par ce qu’il appelle “la
caste dirigeante prédatrice” ou encore “la pieuvre politico-financière”.

Un plein d’essence à 200 dollars

L’économie paie en effet la paralysie du pouvoir politique (le nouveau gouvernement
formé en septembre n’a tenu que deux conseils des ministres), et les
errements d’une banque centrale, dont le gouverneur, poursuivi pour fraude
en France et en Suisse, a renfloué les caisses, en jouant sur les cours de la monnaie,
en gelant les avoirs des Libanais et en supprimant les subventions sur les
produits de première nécessité, dont les médicaments et les carburants. Résultat, alors que la neige a commencé à tomber en abondance sur le mont du
Liban, l’énergie est devenue un luxe ultime. Un plein d’essence coûte près de
200 dollars, quand le salaire minimum mensuel est tombé à 30.

Employés et fonctionnaires ne peuvent se rendre au travail qu’un à deux jours
par semaine, les services publics sont en déliquescence. Beaucoup d’écoles ont
fermé pour l’hiver, faute de pouvoir financer le mazout du chauffage. L’électricité
ne fonctionne plus que quelques heures par jour. Seuls les entreprises
et les ménages privilégiés peuvent encore s’offrir un générateur qui, pour une
centaine de dollars par mois, fournit davantage d’énergie, mais ne garantit pas
contre les coupures en soirée et la nuit.

Le Covid passé au second plan

Dans la capitale, les feux tricolores sont complètement éteints, comme le
grand tunnel qui mène à l’aéroport. La situation est tellement critique, que le
Covid, pourtant virulent, est passé au second plan. Dans les quartiers les plus
pauvres de Beyrouth ou de Tripoli, deuxième ville du pays, personne ne porte
de masque.

Face à cette spirale de la paupérisation, le pays survit grâce à l’aide internationale
. “Nous en sommes réduits à mendier”, déplorait récemment le grand
quotidien l’ Orient le Jour . Sous l’impulsion de la France les pays donateurs se
sont massivement mobilisés après l’explosion du port. “En 2020, l’aide au développement a basculé dans une aide d’urgence”, note Bujar Hoxha, directeur de Care Liban, dont le budget s’est envolé de 33%, son équipe passant de 30 à 140 personnes. L’ordre de Malte au Liban, lui, a doublé depuis l’an dernier le nombre d’actes médicaux et sociaux, atteignant les 400.000. Les ONG ont pris le relais des services publics, dans un climat d’angoisse et d’extrême tension.

D’autant que le pays entre en campagne électorale, avec des législatives attendues
en en mars ou mai. Les diplomates européens tablent sur une trêve des confiseurs sans trop de heurts, mais s’inquiètent de la suite. L’un d’eux prévient. “La situation est tellement éruptive. On sent que la moindre étincelle peut mettre le feu aux poudres”.

Faten: I feel my kids take care of me much better than I do take care of them.

“I dare not ask my children what they want to eat because I know that I would not be able to afford to buy the products to cook,” says Faten Maaraoui, 35 year-old Syrian refugee from Aleppo and mother of two children, a boy and a girl, aged 15 and 13 respectively.

Faten Maaraoui lives with her children and her sick husband in a tiny 9-square-meter room in a Beirut suburb since the economic situation in Lebanon deteriorated around two years ago. When her husband started getting sick, her son had to leave school to work helping his family making ends meet. Faten does not know if she will be able to send her daughter to school this year.

“Sometimes I am so helpless that I cannot fully fulfill my role as a mother. I feel that my kids take care of me much better than I do take care of them and that saddens me a lot,” she says.

“If we have a good month, we manage to eat meat once”

Salem is a 41year-old man who lives in a small apartment in Karantina with his family of five: him, his wife, his two toddler girls and his 10-year-old boy. They are originally from Dir El Zor.

This same appartement also accommodates another family of five. The appartement is old, with grimed walls and bare flooring. They do not own a fridge, neither furniture, nor beds, not even a closet.They use mats and rugs to sleep on during the night and sit on during the day. The only electricity they use is a small stove to cook and two lamps. Even with this many people in one place, securing rent each month is still a constant worry for them.

“If we have a good month, we manage to eat meat once, but our diet mainly consists of lentils, potatoes and vegetables,” he mentions.

Salem has one completely damaged eye and another that is indisposed. His vision is not very clear and due to his eyes’ sensitivity, he is unable to work in carpentry and agriculture.

However, after his foremost eye surgery in 2017, he completely lost sight in his right eye. Although he went back to Syria to complete another surgery for his eye retina, his sight condition kept deteriorating. And until today, he still struggles to find a job as no minimum wage job would take him due to his poor sight.

He used to be a daily worker in plantation fields when he was in Syria, before the war. And when he first moved to Lebanon, he started working as a porter at the Beirut Port.

“I am so grateful to be alive. I would have just gotten back to my house when the explosion happened. I can still remember the loud noise, and the ground trembling, I was so scared,” he says.

Salem is currently working as a floor sweeper in the offices at the port of Beirut after he quit his job in Dbayeh due to skyrocketing transportation expenses. He makes around 50 thousand liras per day, barely being able to cover his eye treatment expenses, his rent, and food for his family, in addition to the fact that he will need another surgery for his eyes.

He received financial support for CARE International in Lebanon so he can make ends meet. He is using the cash assistance to pay rent, medical expenses and put food on the table.

 “My son used to work without pay. And now I can’t even get him into school because he is too old for middle school. I can’t get my family back to Syria because it has, indeed, become more expensive to live in. I just want my children to have a decent life. I want their wellbeing to come first,” he stresses.

Salem is trying his best for the future of his family.

At 13, Mohammad works to save money in hope of going to school

“I dreamed of a life for my children. But when you are in need, you cannot dream too much. I have four children aged between 13 and 8 and my husband stopped working a few months ago due to back problems. He used to be a daily worker, “says Oumaya Steif, 31, originally from Maaret el-Neeman in Syria and arrived in Lebanon 7 years ago.

“Since the start of their schooling,” Oumaya says,“the children were in a private, affordable school. But with the Coronavirus confinement in the spring of 2020 and the economic crisis in Lebanon, plans have changed.”

“I haven’t even finish elementary school and I saw my children studying at home on their own. They needed to be helped but I don’t have enough knowledge to do so,”she says.

Mohammed, 13, started working in a car garage a few months ago. Also, last year, in full lockdown, he left the private school he was enrolled in taking intermittent online classes at the public school.

Today, Oumaya is looking for a good public school to place her children, but Mohammed is immensely sad because he has to change schools.

“In my school all the teachers like me and I have friends. I am also the first of my class. But the two years of confinement were really difficult. The Internet was weak and there were many blackouts and we did not have a subscription to the neighborhood generator. Unlike my hours spent in class, I no longer understood anything,” says Mohammad.

Her son, Mohammad spent this summer working for a mechanic. He earns 100,000 liras a week (about 6 USD), he gives part of the money to his mother, the other part he saves it to be able to buy some of the books, pencils and notebooks he needs when time comes to go back to school.

Mohammed vaguely remembers his native country, his mother on the other hand would have liked to be able to return home but she knows that this is impossible and that this return could be dangerous.

“I would have liked my family, my sisters and my brothers, not to be scattered among several countries in the region. I wanted my children to grow up in Syria, to study there, to have other lives, but I know that it is impossible for now,” she said.

Angela, 85: “I would like to visit my sister, but for her, I will be another mouth to feed”

Angela appears to be quite younger than her 85 years. She has never been rich. She lives in a small house in Nabaa, the poor suburb of East Beirut.

With her husband who used to work at Electricité du Liban and who died about ten years ago, she managed to raise her children, two girls and two boys, one of whom died more than 25 years ago in an accident. She rarely needed support to survive, but since the multiple crisis in Lebanon she has found it very difficult to make ends meet.

“My daughter, Josephine, who has three children, was helping me at the beginning but now she is struggling to feed her own family,” she says.

Angela, a CARE International program participant, counts her expenses: The rent, the generator subscription, the gas bottle, everything has become overpriced. “With the money I got from CARE International I was able to pay my rent, I was late on rent for a few months, buy a gas bottle, pay for some medicine and buy some food. I wanted to eat fish but it was too expensive. With the money I had left I was able to buy chicken, which was good as well,”she says.

Angela is a quiet woman, she is not used to complaining. She has always learned to do with what she has.

As the conversation progresses, she talks about her past life and what she is going through right now.
“I would sometimes go to the mountains, to my sister’s house. I don’t do this anymore. Gasoline has become too expensive. In addition, when I’m at her place, I can’t afford to shop at the grocer’s. I will be a burden for her: one more mouth to feed and she is already suffering from the situation,” she says.

On Sundays when her husband was alive, Angela used to go for a walk with her family. Her daughter, Joséphine, carried on the tradition until a few months ago. “We used to go out of Beirut, go to a restaurant or have a picnic. Today, this is part of a bygone past. Everything has increased, even the price of bread,” says Joséphine who lives a few kilometers from her mother’s and who no longer uses any transportation means to visit her in order to save money.

“Often because of lack of means, my children only eat thyme sandwiches”

Rahif looks much older than his 56 years. He has always lived in poverty, but the crisis that Lebanon has been going through for more than two years now has plunged him further into misery.

Rafif’s life turned upside down shortly before the crisis when his wife, with whom he had spent 28 years, walked away in 2017 leaving him to care for their five children, including two girls aged today 9 and 10. With the crisis, sending them to school has become a real burden, he doesn’t know how to pay for stationery or the school bus.

“I was a carpenter; I lost my job when my wife left me. I tried working as a taxi driver but it didn’t work,” he says. Rahif has been unemployed for a long time. He suffers from several illnesses, including diabetes, and relies on alms to survive. “My brothers, a little less poor than I am, sometimes helps me,” he explains.

He has been renting his house in a poor area of ​​Tripoli for a long time but does not have the means to carry out the necessary maintenance work there, repainting it for example. With his family, he lives almost without electricity relying only on the current supplied by the electricity of Lebanon and which has not exceeded two hours a day for more than four months.

Buying a gas bottle to be able to cook and prepare hot meals for his children has become a luxury for him. “It’s too expensive, often by lack of means, my children only eat thyme sandwiches, Lebanese bread sprinkled with dried thyme. When I can afford it, I boil potatoes or pasta,” he says.

Rahif who is a CARE program participating through an OCHA project, like many people who have been in dire need for more than two years, does not like to dwell on the details of his daily life. It takes time to confess that for several months, he and his children have eaten twice a day, skipping breakfast or dinner. “You end up getting used to it,” he says.

Money to pay the rent arrears

Yousra, 8 years old, no longer goes to school, she spends her days in the streets of Tripoli selling handkerchiefs.

Hassan Jaaban is 33 years old, his wife Souheir is 28 years old. Both are from the city of Hama and came to Lebanon from Syria in 2012, just over a year after the war.

Hassan has not worked for more than six months. He had been a vegetable street vendor. But one day when he was at the Abu Ali roundabout, a busy artery in Tripoli, some men came, chased him away and broke his cart.

“Someone gave the cart to me around a year ago. I can’t afford another one,” he explains. Since he arrived to Lebanon, Hassan has tried many jobs without ever being able to make ends meet.

The family who has four daughters aged from eight to four share an apartment with two other Syrian families in Tripoli, the capital of northern Lebanon and the poorest city on the Mediterranean.

A program participant of CARE International in Lebanon, Hassan and his family received $ 400 in cash, along with food parcels and hygiene kits.

The money received enabled them to pay the arrears of their rent but the sum will not allow Hassan and Souheir’s two oldest elders, Yousra and Cidra, 8 and 7 years old respectively, to go back to school.

These two little girls work every day to support their family. Yousra sells paper tissues and Cidra sells chewing gum.

“With the lockdown last year, Yousra had online classes, which she couldn’t follow because of the lack of Internet and the old phone we have,” her mother says.

“She was at school for a few months, maybe a little less than two years ago, but she would come home in the afternoon tired and could not go into the streets to sell disposable handkerchiefs and bring money home,’ says Hassan.

Yousra is a pretty little girl. She has straight black hair and sparkling black eyes.

The school two years ago? She remembers it as if it were yesterday. She had made friends and used to play with them, but now she has no contact with them anymore as she works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Yousra has a big smile on her face when she talks about the time she spends with her mother when she comes home or about her little memories of school. But her face floods with tears as she talks about the issues she faces nearly every day on the street. “Last time, boys taller than me chased me away from where I was working. They beat me up and stole my money,”she says. Although some people are nice to her, and give her a lot more than a tissue paper is worth, others insult her or spit in her face. Sometimes, too, men follow her.

Yousra and her sister make around 150,000 liras (US $ 9) every day, a sum they give to their parents every night.

Would she have liked to buy something for herself, at least once with this money? Yousra is silent, thinks, says “no” and bursts into tears.

“In Akkar, We Are Born, We Live And We Die In Poverty”

Omar is among the survivors of Sunday’s explosion. Wearing bandages on his calves and forearms, he was among the rare casualties who were slightly burnt.  He saw his brother and his cousin transformed before his eyes into living torches.

Still in shock, Omar talks about the explosion.

“The gasoline that came from the tank was strewn on the ground and the pipe that carried it was very large. By filling our gallons, we had our hands full of gasoline. And then when it all exploded, people turned into living torches, the burning gasoline trails followed those who wanted to flee. I am very lucky. My brother and cousin were standing next to me. In no time they were charred.”

“I was taken to a dispensary not far from the village. The nurses treated my burns. I have to go back in three days. The ointment tube costs 108,000 pounds, 5.5 USD. I don’t know how many I will need or how to pay for it. I earn 1, 2 million Liras (60 USD); and I already don’t know how I have to juggle so it lasts until the end of the month,” he says.

Omar is married and he is a father of two young children.

“In Akkar, we are born, we live and we die in poverty,” he says, his eyes filled with sadness.

Akkar is the poorest region in Lebanon and hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees in the country. It lacks hospitals, schools and work opportunities. And the multiple crises that have affected Lebanon for more than eighteen months have plunged the population deeper into poverty.

“We have electricity for half an hour a day. We have no generators and we cannot afford the black market’s fuel and gasoline. Now you know why around 100 people have flocked from many villages to fill up gasoline gallons”, he said.

“If we weren’t in need, if these few liters of gasoline weren’t crucial for us, we would have never been to Tleil (the village where the tanker of gasoline that was prepared to be smuggled had been seized) and my family members would have never died ”.

The name has been changed to preserve anonymity

“We Are So Poor That My Brothers Died For a Few Drops of Gasoline”

Dawsseh is a poor and remote village in Akkar, the poorest caza in Lebanon and the one with the largest number of Syrian refugees. In Dawsseh, four people were killed in Sunday explosion, two brothers in each family.

Mouein Chreiteh is receiving condolences in a tent erected at the entrance of his house as is the customs in this region for such circumstances. He has just lost his two children, Jalal 16 and Khaled 20. His third 28-year-old son was injured. It was him who broke the news to his father.

My sons died for 50,000 liras (2.5 USD),” he says, his voice barely audible. This is in fact the price of 10 liters of gasoline that the two young men planned to take home.

Here, we lack everything: water, electricity, fuel, generator… We are left behind and because we are destitute, we have been used like cannon fodder. We are begging for bread, milk, food. Even for DNA tests that would identify my children’s bodies; it takes twice as long as elsewhere in the country. Lebanon is on the brink, I know. But with the death of my two sons, I really have nothing to lose.

Sitting in the living room, his daughter Fida, 24 years old, has an icy gaze. Fida, who has an eight-month-old child, has not only lost her two brothers, but her 28-year-old husband is seriously burned also. He was taken to the American University of Beirut hospital. “Sixty percent of his body is burned. I haven’t spoken to him yet. He doesn’t know my two brothers are dead. He was with them at the time of the explosion,” she said, staring into the void. Her silence contrasts with her mother’s long sobs coming from the next room.

We, the people of Akkar, are the living dead. We have no resources, struggling with poverty for ages, and every month we are pulling the devil by the tail. My husband is a soldier, his salary is barely enough to buy diapers and milk for our daughter. Otherwise, over the past year we have sold everything to try and make ends meet… but in vain. We are so poor that my brothers died for a few drops of gasoline,” she adds.

CARE International In Lebanon: “We have never seen as much people in need”

#WeCare4Beirut

Cela fait un an qu’une terrible déflagration ravageait le port de Beyrouth au Liban. C’est un stock de centaines de tonnes de nitrate d’ammonium qui a explosé, provoquant plus de 200 morts, des milliers de blessés et de sans-abri. Le pays vit depuis cette date fatidique une crise sans précédent, une crise à multiples facettes.

Si le traumatisme collectif qui a suivi l’explosion est encore présent aujourd’hui, un autre poids pèse sur les épaules des Libanais depuis des mois : celui de la crise économique et financière. La pauvreté atteint désormais 60% de la population ; la livre libanaise, dont le taux est lié au dollar, a dégringolé sur le marché noir. Désormais, un dollar s’échange contre 17 500 livres, il y a deux ans, c’était 10 fois moins.  L’inflation a augmenté de 120% dans le même temps. Conséquences : pénuries de carburants, de médicaments, de produits manufacturés… Bref, tous les produits importés sont hors de prix, dans un marché importateur de quasi tous les biens de consommation. L’électricité est absente 22 heures par jour, les générateurs partagés ne peuvent plus pallier ces coupures, par manque d’essence.

Pour les salariés, la perte est immense : payés en livres libanaises, leur pouvoir d’achat a chuté.

Et de plus en plus de personnes ont faim. “Sur le terrain, on n’a jamais vu autant de personnes qui sont dans le besoin, on voit des familles qui mangent une fois par jour“, explique Patricia Khoder, responsable communication pour l’ONG CARE International. “La classe n’a plus les moyens parce que les gens n’ont plus accès à leur argent à la banque“. Les épargnes ont en effet été bloquées par la Banque centrale du Liban, absorbées par les dettes de l’Etat, qui est en défaut de paiement. “Tout le monde a besoin d’aide, je suis en train de voir des enfants qui n’ont pas de quoi se nourrir, je vois des enfants par exemple pour lesquels on trempe le pain dont dans de l’eau pour que cela puisse les caler, pour qu’ils n’aient plus faim“.

Désormais, 60% de la population se trouve sous le seuil de pauvreté, selon les chiffres internationaux. Depuis août dernier, l’ONG CARE a distribué des colis alimentaires de première nécessité à 43 000 familles à travers le Liban et ce chiffre est en constante augmentation.