In a letter sent to ACN International, Father Charbel Eid, a Maronite Catholic priest and project partner of the charity, pours out his heart about the catastrophic situation currently facing the people of his home country, Lebanon.
“You need to know…” He begins several of the paragraphs of his letter with these words, as though to emphasise the tragic situation in which the people of Lebanon find themselves. It was only after the explosion on 4 August this year, which destroyed the port of Beirut and part of the city itself, that he decided to emerge from the “suffocating silence” into which the sadness of the situation has plunged him.
He recalls how, for almost a year now, the situation in Lebanon has been extremely difficult. “You need to know that for too long now anger has been building in the hearts of the Lebanese people, both here and elsewhere. And that hundreds of thousands of people, who have been demonstrating ever since October against the misgovernment and corruption of their political leaders, have now found themselves the bloodied victims of this terrible ‘accident’, caused by the culpable negligence of those same political leaders.”
“For several months now”, he writes, “Lebanon has been foundering in a bottomless abyss.” He recalls that the ordinary people no longer have access to their money, or only to “trifling amounts”, that electric power has become a scarce commodity and that the Lebanese pound – the national currency – is now worth no more than a fraction of its former value: “Ordinary people, who were already struggling to scrape together a few paltry savings, now no longer have access to their money. The banks have blocked all transactions and are only dispersing trifling amounts to their customers. Sums that are insufficient for anyone to cover their basic needs. Prices in the shops have exploded, and the dollar, which was previously worth 1500 Lebanese pounds, is now worth almost 9000. The electricity supply which, ever since the end of the civil war has never been a continuous supply, has become still more erratic, while the generators that were used to cope in the event of the daily power cuts, can now no longer find the diesel to run on.”
So will the Phoenix be able to rise from the ashes?
According to Father Charbel, the hope and resilience that the Lebanese people have so often demonstrated in the past, despite a succession of tragedies, are no longer in evidence this time. “Beirut is a devastated city today. Our capital has risen so many times from the ashes, thanks to the incredible strength, motivation, enterprising spirit and foresight of the Lebanese people. But today everybody is wondering how a failed nation can possibly succeed in reviving again.”
From 1975 to 1990 Lebanon suffered from a civil war which claimed over 150,000 lives. “We’ve seen it all before; we’ll be back on our feet” – this was always the mentality hitherto, despite the succession of misfortunes. But today there is a look of complete disarray in everyone’s eyes. “For the first time since I was born in 1980, in the midst of the civil war, I have seen a real loss of hope in the Lebanese people”, Father Charbel writes.
International support is more necessary than ever
According to Father Charbel, even before the arrival of Covid-19, the World Bank had estimated that 45% of the Lebanese population were living below the poverty threshold. “But right now, according to declarations by the social affairs Minister Ramzi Mashrafieh, the government reckons that 75% of the population are in urgent need of aid.”
“With around 4000 shops and small businesses going bust and the closure of around 5000 factories, the situation can only get worse. Unemployment is exploding, and since the unemployed receive no government support, they have no other alternative but to come knocking on the door of the Church for at least a minimum of support”, Father Charbel reports.
He recalls in his letter that ACN has already responded to a request from the local Church and begun providing support for 5000 families: “Given this critical situation, we can only turn to you and beg your help and support as we attempt to save the life of our Christian communities in Lebanon”, this Lebanese Maronite priest concludes.