Lebanon’s Suffering May End the Damascus-Beirut Relationship

Published June 30th, 2020 - 11:36 GMT
Lebanese protesters wave the national flag in front of riot police in Beirut /AFP
Lebanese protesters wave the national flag in front of riot police in Beirut /AFP

Nations around the world are coming together on the 30 June to attend a virtual pledging conference for Syria and the wider region. In Lebanon, home to almost 900,000 registered Syrian refugees, the economy has been dropping since late last year. Covid-19 has accelerated the fall in the value of the local currency, Lebanese lira, whilst the little work that was available to refugees, often in construction and paid in lira, is drying up.

 The US dollar and local currency have been used interchangeably in Lebanon for many years. Heavily dependent on imports, the dollar was used to pay workers from abroad and to purchase foreign goods. But banks are now refusing to issue dollars to fewer people, often those needing to purchase a plane ticket or to pay a worker.
 

 

The lira has lost up to 70% of its black-market value in recent months. Despite an official peg implemented in 1997 of 1,507 lira to the dollar, the currency tumbled to 6,000 per dollar on the black market in mid-June and has continued to drop to around 7,000 to the dollar.

For Syrian refugees living in the country, the economic turmoil has bought increased challenges to an already precarious position. 9 out of ten refugees living in Lebanon were in debt before the Covid-19 outbreak, with average household debt levels of around $1,115. But there are signs that debt levels are increasing and, with the hit local businesses are taking, it is likely that loans and charity from local communities might no longer be able to those unable to find sufficiently paid work.

The lira has lost up to 70% of its black-market value in recent months. Despite an official peg implemented in 1997 of 1,507 lira to the dollar, the currency tumbled to 6,000 per dollar on the black market in mid-June and has continued to drop to around 7,000 to the dollar.

Protests and political turmoil have been damaging the economy since 2019 but the pandemic has exacerbated the effects and, according to a recent World Bank report, could have pushed 45% of Lebanon’s population below the country’s poverty line.

One woman told the UNHCR that “the situation is seriously bad here. The neighbours used to be able to pay their debts before, but … they all lost their jobs. We keep thinking it will get better, we didn’t think we would be in this situation. Then corona came and levelled us to the ground.”

Her family used to be able to rely on her husband’s wages, however low they may have been to be able to keep them from destitution, but things have become increasingly difficult. Her husband has not been paid for 3 months. Medicine needs to treat a kidney condition is getting out of reach. “I need an injection every week, but now I can only afford one injection every three weeks,” she told the UNHCR.

“I need an injection every week, but now I can only afford one injection every three weeks,” she told the UNHCR.

Although the country will be looking for foreign aid on 30 June, there are worries that the recently implemented Caesar Act, which sees US sanction on the Assad regime whilst fighting continues, could push Lebanon further into economic strife.

The irony would be that although the Act is designed to stop violence from the Assad regime against Syrian civilians, it could inadvertently harm those who have already been forced to leave the country. Lebanon shares its only functional land border with Syria and ties between the countries have been necessary to stop Lebanon’s further financial plunge.

But one Middle East analyst, Paul Morcos, thinks the Act could lead to Lebanon attempt to break-ties with Damascus. “I think it will be very difficult for Lebanon to keep maintaining their relationship with the Syrian regime. They will not be able to reconcile as before,” he told Al Jazeera.

But one Middle East analyst, Paul Morcos, thinks the Act could lead to Lebanon attempt to break-ties with Damascus. “I think it will be very difficult for Lebanon to keep maintaining their relationship with the Syrian regime. They will not be able to reconcile as before,” he told Al Jazeera.

If a break is made between the two then gaps in funding must be filled by the US and others. “The most vulnerable in the society – including millions of refugees – have lost their already fragile and meagre income. They are sliding deeper into poverty and debt,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Monday. “The international community must come together with sustained and predictable support for Syrian refugees and the countries and communities in the region that have generously hosted them for years.”

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


© 2000 - 2020 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

You may also like