Little power, petrol or even paracetamol – it’s a wonder there isn’t open conflict in Lebanon

World

Tonight, Lebanon has been knocked into darkness. Again.

The two state power stations are without fuel, and so the entire country is without electricity. Small mercy it’s no longer the height of summer, when air conditioning units and fans are literally life-saving for many.

Lebanese are used to power shortages: for some time now, the state electricity firm has been limiting power to two to three hours a day, so those who can afford it supplement their electricity from personal generators.

A customer uses her phone's torch light in a grocery store near the town of Bhamdoun
Image:
A customer uses her phone’s torch in a grocery store near the town of Bhamdoun

The poorest don’t have that luxury.

Most evenings, Beirut is lit only by the headlamps of cars or street-fires of protest – it is an eerie visualisation of the country’s dire problems.

During the day, queues, miles long, snake around Beirut petrol stations as people wait for hours to fill up their cars and jerry cans; medicine is so scarce in the country’s pharmacies that one family I spent time with recently couldn’t even find paracetamol on the shelves; and inflation is so rampant that the World Bank has compared the Lebanese financial crisis to Weimar Germany and Zimbabwe.

The middle classes, once wealthy and comfortable, are leaving Lebanon for lives in Europe and the US.

More on Lebanon

After months of stalemate, a new government has finally brought some faint hope of political stability and international assistance, but that is yet to materialise.

Talks with the IMF are progressing slowly, and there is a possibility of fuel deals with neighbouring Syria.

At one petrol station near Tripoli, a gunfight broke out with reports of a grenade being thrown. Pic AP
Image:
People queue at petrol stations for hours. Pic: AP

It’s a wonder the security situation remains as stable as it does. It is deteriorating – murder, violent crime and robbery are increasing – but, for now, civil conflict hasn’t broken out and the Lebanese Armed Forces are the one organisation in public life with some credibility intact.

The Lebanese government says it hopes to get power back up and running in a matter of days – if it doesn’t, patience will rapidly run out.

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