The fuel shortage also means that production companies are no longer providing electricity 24/7. Mains power has been uneven for decades, but until recently private electricity providers covered the deficit – for those who could afford to pay. Without electricity now for much of the night, you can’t run a fan, let alone the air conditioning.
Which of course is just a taste of what most Lebanese will experience during this looming summer of discontent.
I ask Nagi, my repairman, to estimate what percentage of the population has access to a steady supply of fresh dollars. “About 12%,” he guesses with curious precision.
Driver for a foreign NGO, Nagi is fortunate to have kept most of his salary in dollars, even though his employer put him on leave during the pandemic. He says he now earns more in a month than his doctor brother earns in a year working in a private hospital.
Even if you have money, some goods are scarce. In February, anxious families desperately searched the black market for bottled oxygen as covid patients were treated in their cars outside overflowing hospitals. Friends and colleagues returning from overseas are now asked to bring rare medicines in their luggage.
Officially, more than half of the population now lives above the national poverty line, although this figure is rapidly growing. the The World Bank warned this month that Lebanon suffered from one of the most serious crises in the world since the middle of the 19th century.
A GDP contraction of around 40% in real terms “is usually associated with conflict or war,” the authors note curtly, adding that “there is growing mistrust of potential triggers for unrest. social ”.
Given Lebanon’s history of civil war, this should sound alarm bells for even the country’s most isolated elite. But political disagreements have prevented the formation of a new government since former Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after the massive explosion in the port of Beirut last summer that killed more than 200 people. (The precise figure varies depending on the source, while the government has never provided a final tally of the death toll.)
Last week, France announced it would organize a fundraiser for the Lebanese army, one of the only institutions not marred by the country’s sectarian divisions. Army chief General Joseph Aoun warned in a speech to officers in March that the soldiers “were suffering and hungry like the rest of the population.”
But with the IFIs and foreign governments insisting that systematic reform must precede bailouts, there is “no clear turning point on the horizon,” as the World Bank puts it.
Until then, I hope Nino stays open, and not just for the sake of my Sazeracs.