Prayers for Lebanon
by Rev. Elmarie Parker
PCUSA Regional Liaison to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon
For Lebanon, the past two plus years have held numerous catastrophes including the August 4, 2020 Beirut explosion and the ongoing devastating economic crisis. Partners in Lebanon communicate that the current reality is unlike anything our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and partners in Lebanon have ever experienced…economically worse even than any period during their 15-year civil war that ended in 1990. This report is from ministry partners on the ground in Lebanon.
Lebanon is collectively enduring the country’s catastrophic economic and banking collapse (one of the three worst such collapses in the past 150 years of global history) with all of its crippling and debasing impacts especially affecting the most vulnerable around us. No one ever dreamed that more than two years ago all they had worked for would be stripped away. A recent UN investigation reports that nearly 80% of the Lebanese population currently lives below the poverty line. Another report from the United Nations reveals that multi-dimensional poverty impacts 82% of the population with reduced or no access to health care, education, or public utilities and meager to zero income. This same report highlights how inflation soared 281% between June 2019 and June 2021, and the situation has only grown worse since then with collapsing fuel subsidies and the Lira still losing value. The value of the Lira currently fluctuates between 19,000LL to the USD and 34,000LL to the USD, making it extremely challenging to conduct business of any kind, let alone figure out basic household expenses like food, fuel, generator subscription prices, medications, etc.
For example, our neighbor is a teacher who used to earn the equivalent of $1,000 USD per month. She now brings home the same salary, but it is worth only $65 USD. At the same time, the propane tank she buys for cooking that used to cost 17,500LL now costs her over 400,000LL. A tank of gas for her car has escalated at the same rate. Her food costs have risen 500%. In the meantime, she must hunt all over the city for a pharmacy that still has medications available. Basic medicines like aspirin are almost impossible to find, let alone medications for treating chronic conditions. Public utilities provide only 1-2 hours of electricity a day, so if funds aren’t available for the now very expensive generator subscriptions. It is impossible to keep one’s refrigerator going, let alone all the other life tasks that demand electricity.
During Lebanon’s very cold winter this year, this also means people aren’t able to heat their homes. We are hearing reports from partners that people are burning clothes, wood, and anything else they can find to stay warm. While people begging on the streets in past months and years have been mostly from among the Syrian refugee population, now there are more and more Lebanese begging or going through the trash bins looking for whatever might be edible. Meat and chicken has pretty much dropped out of people’s meal plans, and even beans, because they use too much propane time to cook. Lentils, rice, oil, and vegetables are the basic foodstuffs making up relief packages these days. You can see why the middle class has become impoverished and the impoverished have become destitute.
Anyone who had a bank account has long been locked out from freely accessing it. Only very limited withdrawals are possible, and those withdrawals come at very unfavorable exchange rates. Accounting has become a very complex process for any business as they work with multiple exchange rate realities every day. Much more can be said about this dynamic.
The persistent refusal of those with governing authority to act for the good of all in Lebanon is leaving most of those in Lebanon feeling deeply discouraged and angry. The not yet healed physical, emotional, and spiritual wound left by the catastrophic Beirut Port explosion in August 2020 still lays raw. And then there is the covid19 pandemic which has just amplified all the above. Though it must be said that the Health Ministry and remaining medical community have provided excellent care and communication throughout the pandemic—from lock-down and/or masking & temperature-taking protocols, to an effective and efficient vaccination platform, to exceptional testing capacity (a full lab PCR test taken in the morning has results sent out by SMS by the afternoon), to comprehensive contact tracing.
Our partners, including both Palestinian and Syrian refugees, are living and feeling the pain of all the above in their own lives, the lives of their families, and in the lives of those they seek to accompany and serve in the midst of these multiple disasters. Most of the focus is on simple relief aid—food security work, vouchers for fuel or rent or medicines or medical care, school scholarships. Several partners are also providing mental health care/trauma resiliency efforts. And several are helping families whose homes were damaged in the blast, repair those homes (or businesses). Our partners need the wider church body to weep with them, and stand with them through both prayer and financial grants that are needed now more than ever.
Please join Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) in praying for Lebanon. You can leave your prayers in the comments section of this blog. If you would like to support ministries of the PCUSA church you can make a donation here with “relief support” on the comments line. Or you can send a check to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
Memo/Comments Line: E864355—Relief Support
To learn more about the economic crisis in Lebanon, see this Do Justice Blog written by CMEP’s executive director Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon (September 17, 2021).
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).