By Fausta Speranza & Linda Bordoni
The terrible explosion that brought destruction and death to Beirut at the beginning of August compounded a national crisis in a country suffering from endemic corruption, mismanagement and the collapse of the economy and of infrastructure.
Shortly after the fire and blast in the capital’s port area on 4 August that killed over 200 people, wounded more than 6,000 and displaced 300,000, Marwan Sehnaoui, the President of the Order of Malta’s Lebanese Association, wrote an open letter of appeal from what he described “the middle of a heartbroken city and an ever-wounded country.”
He told Vatican Radio that today, the people of Lebanon are in need of everything:
“The Lebanese people have nothing anymore,” Marwan Sehnaoui said, explaining that they need houses, health-care, food, electricity.
Power cuts, he said, mean people have only 3 or 4 hours of electricity a day, and this has an enormous impact on all aspects of daily life (from keeping necessities like milk refrigerated, to generating energy for life-saving equipment in operating theatres and ICUs).
”When tomorrow everything collapses - because everything will collapse if nothing happens - and you are in surgery and the electricity goes off…,” he reiterated, stressing that everything in Lebanon today is a humanitarian crisis: "health, food, energy, education… everything is humanitarian!”
A failed economy
Sehnaoui explained that more than 3 or 4 hundred thousand people have lost their jobs in the past four months in the country. Lebanon, he continued, has been in economic free-fall for the past ten months and what the blast in Beirut did, was to bring the dire situation to the attention of the world.
But in reality, he said, “the big problem of Lebanon began ten months ago when the state declared bankruptcy."
From then on, Sehnaoui explained, the people have progressively lost everything because the banks have stopped working. Their deposits have been drained and the flow of money has all but halted.
“If you have 2 million dollars in the bank you have to queue for hours to get 200 dollars a month”, he said adding that it is not possible to transfer money or receive dollars in cash, “which means that the capacity for surviving financially" is reduced to zero.
He said that 55% of the population is living on or below the poverty line. Inflation is around 100% and the devaluation of the Lebanese pound is 500 to 600%.
“Which means that if you were earning a salary of about 3,000 dollars [per month], today you have to survive on about 200 or 300 dollars,” he said.
What’s more, he added, this has to be converted into Lebanese pounds that have no buying power, meaning that it has become impossible even for those who haven’t lost their jobs, to survive on their salaries.
“You have to buy from the outside, your money is decreasing, plus you only get Lebanese pounds with which you can’t buy anything!” he said.
Order of Malta bringing aid to all
In a country that is on its knees, Sehnaoui said that the Sovereign Order of Malta is bringing much-needed health aid and basic services from north to south, including to the people in the Bekka Valley and to cities.
Its personnel and volunteers are running about 10 Primary Care Health Centers and 7 Medical Mobile Units, and all their services are free of charge.
“All services are completely free for all: for Christians, Muslims, Muslims Shia, Muslim Sunni, Muslim Druze. They are all exactly the same: they are creatures of God.”