Maintaining hope in the face of the refugee crisis and the destruction caused by the explosion in Beirut
Too many crises for a small country
Lebanon is the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East. In addition to the three largest groups (Sunnis, Shiites, and Maronite Christians) there are a further 15 religious communities recognized in the country. Although officially a parliamentary democracy, Lebanon is governed according to a 75-year-old National Pact, which distributes the top national positions according to sectarian affiliation.
In addition to the delicate religious balance, Lebanon is also a major host country for refugees. Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, 1.5 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon. This influx, combined with almost 300,000 displaced Palestinian who have been in the country for decades, makes Lebanon the country with the highest percentage of refugees per capita in the world; 30% of the current population are refugees.
Before the civil war (1975-1990), Lebanon had a strong economy and served as one of the most important financial centers in the Middle East. Today, Lebanon is experiencing its worst economic crisis since independence, and more than half of its over 6 million residents live in poverty. Lebanon is also one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world; the state is insolvent and has had to ask its creditors to restructure its debts.
Due to these huge debt obligations and the looming likelihood of default, the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound began to fall in 2019, which resulted in a massive wave of protests and a crisis of governmental legitimacy.
In August of 2020, an explosion at the port of Beirut devastated the Lebanese capital, a city home to over 2.2 million residents. The disaster, caused by years of mismanagement, killed 190 people, injured over 6,000, and caused 300,000 people to lose their homes and apartments.
The Coronavirus has also made firm inroads in Lebanon, and the economic impact, coupled with the broader financial crisis, is expected to be extensive. In November 2020, the caretaker government ordered a second lockdown, but the healthcare system, which was relatively well-prepared, is currently severely overburdened and underfunded.