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A year after a deadly explosion of tons of ammonium nitrate that sat for years in a Beirut port warehouse, people in Lebanon are still waiting for answers and government accountability. Special correspondent Leila Molana-Allen reports on how people across Lebanon are struggling to cope amid the ongoing collapse of the country's economy and shortages in fuel, food and basic services.
The grim first anniversary of the Beirut port explosion comes amid the ongoing collapse of Lebanon's economy, by some measures, one of the three worst globally since the 1850s.
Shortages of food, medicine, fuel and a near worthless currency have been exacerbated by inept and corrupt governance. The result? Widespread suffering and a sense of national doom.
From Beirut, special correspondent Leila Molana-Allen reports.
Dawn breaks over Beirut, with it, the first light many will see today. For months now, much of Lebanon has been without power overnight.
But day brings only a little respite. In the suburbs, Raeda Al Bitar is preparing for another day of organizing her life around her chores.
Raeda Al Bitar:
Right now, we don't have electricity. The electricity that we have from the private generator is not enough for the elevator.
And how much government electricity are you getting every day at the moment?
Maybe one or two hours.
Lebanon hasn't had reliable national electricity for decades. But, this summer, the usual few hours of outages per day have soared to more than 20. The only other option, for those who can afford it, is pricey private generators.
This month, we have been asked for three million liras. Three million liras is more than I get paid per month.
But now even those are failing thanks to a dire diesel shortage, leaving people without any power at all for up to 12 hours a day, as temperatures soar.
On the highway nearby, Raeda's husband, Samer, is facing another exhausting new Lebanese ritual, hunting for gas.
All plans are based on the availability of the fuel. Look at this. This is a Citgo station for filling fuel. It's a line about 30 cars.
For weeks now, Lebanon's fuel pumps have been running on almost empty. The country doesn't have an official public transport system, and the unofficial system is made up of minivans and cars, which need petrol too.
If you want to live your daily life, get around, get to work, your only option is to sit in the sweltering heat and wait.
And the government has scrapped fuel subsidies, making scarce fuel increasingly unaffordable too. As tensions rise, fights are breaking out at gas stations across the country, and many have closed altogether.
He says he's been here for four hours waiting for petrol today.
Because Samer and Raeda work in different areas, they can't share a car, so she has to endure the same process. And when she gets to work, she's just stepping from a personal crisis into a public one.
Raeda is the head pharmacist at Lebanon's biggest public hospital, Rafik Hariri in Beirut. As well as struggling to keep the hospital and its lifesaving equipment running with so little power, they're constantly short of vital medications.
A lot of these shelves are empty. What are you missing at the moment?
I'm missing a lot, most of the time, the antibiotics.
The cupboards are bare. They have struggled to get the drugs they need since the economy took a nosedive two years ago. But now the shortages aren't just threatening lives. They're taking them.
Raeda's own family has suffered. Her brother-in-law recently died needlessly.
He didn't find his medication for two, three days. He thought it was OK, it's just a hypertension medication. He thought that he can manage for a few days without it.
But what actually happened is that he had a brain hemorrhage, and, later on, he died for a medication that cost like 15,000.
Less than a dollar.
Yes. That shouldn't happen. That shouldn't — that is not supposed to happen.
It's the same situation across the country. Pharmacies are closing their doors and social media is flooded with desperate messages searching for lifesaving drugs.
How long can the medical system here survive like this?
Actually, it's falling day by day. I can only imagine how many people have gone through that, how many people they don't have voices to be heard. Nobody can tell their story, and they just died.
Private businesses aren't faring much better, including Raeda's father Ismail's fabric import company, which has sustained the Al Bitar family for decades.
Ismail has worked all his life to support his four children, put them through university and give them a comfortable life. He hoped to retire and spend his remaining days relaxing with his grandchildren. Now the crisis has taken all that away. Even his savings are gone.
Ismail Al Bitar:
I feel that my money has been stolen.
Do you feel let down by your country?
Yes. I feel that my country has betrayed me. I have no peace, no peace of mind, no peace of life. I feel like a person who is sentenced to death, and he is awaiting death.
Ismail isn't the only one who feels his money and his future have been stolen.
Lebanon's currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value. One U.S. dollar used to be 1, 500 lira. It's now around 20,000. People's life savings, stuck in the bank, have been wiped out.
And for those lucky enough to still have a job, the minimum wage is now worth less than $35 a month.
After another fearful, draining shift at work, it's time for Raeda to fight more fires at home. On the way, she has to tackle the grocery store. As always these days, she has no idea just what she will be able to feed her family with the cash she has in her wallet.
The average price of goods and services has quadrupled since June 2019, and basic essentials now cost seven times what they once did.
This now costs you two hours of work to buy this one can of corn?
Yes. Now it's very usual for someone to be at the cashier paying, and then he will return this one and return this one and return and this one.
Finally, she finds something that's affordable, a jar of mayonnaise. Back home, it's time to make dinner.
Raeda does everything she can to still give 7-year-old Ahmad the food he likes.
I'm going to cook this for today with some rice and some meat. That's all.
Ahmad, 7 Years old: I don't want to be a vegetarian, because meat is a lot more tasty.
Samer is an accountant. Between them, he and Raeda have nearly two decades of higher education and multiple degrees.
They used to earn well. Now their combined monthly salary is worth just $250. In 18 months, Raeda and her family have gone from working hard to live a comfortable life to struggling each day just to make ends meet.
Not in my scariest dreams ever that I have thought that everything is going to fall apart at once.
The Al Bitars were one of thousands of families who took to the streets in October 2019 to call for a better future for Lebanon. Instead, they have been plunged into the abyss.
We rose our flags. And we were there and my child were there. We were — I — really, for a while, we believed that we were going to make a change. And then all our dreams were crushed.
Those days of hope are long gone.
Almost every day, sporadic demonstrations break out, as angry Lebanese light tires and dumpsters on fire and block roads to protest the dire conditions they face in every element of daily life. But few believe things will improve. Now they're simply trying to survive. They don't know how long they can.
People are walking around like zombies. Their eyes are so desperate.
For the first time in my life, I can understand why would someone go throw a boat and throw himself and his children into the sea, because he can — he can hear his child crying of hunger.
We have reached a hopeless end. And it's so hard for me to say hopeless, but it is hopeless.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Leila Molana-Allen in Beirut.
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