Protests erupted again this week in Lebanon, as a spiraling currency crisis led to violence in the streets. A strict COVID-19 lockdown has crushed the economy, causing many Lebanese to go months without an income. And as special correspondent Leila Molana-Allen reports from Tripoli, many now are left with nothing.
Protests erupted again this week in Lebanon, as a spiraling currency crisis led to violence in the streets. A strict COVID-19 lockdown has crushed the economy, causing many Lebanese to go months without any income.
And, as special correspondent Leila Molana-Allen reports from Tripoli, many now are left with nothing.
It's a smoky Tuesday afternoon in Lebanon's northernmost city, Tripoli, and Mohammed Nahman (ph) is dropping off bread donations to families in some of the poorest neighborhoods. For some here, it will be the most substantial thing they eat today.
As Lebanon's economy plummets, local charities are overwhelmed trying to provide for desperate families' most basic needs, and the need is greater than ever.
The price of bread has nearly doubled in six months. But now donations are starting to dry out. Izdihar volunteers used to give out 9,000 bags a day. Now they can only afford 2,000.
Mazen Habbouchy (through translator):
There are a lot of people who call asking for something to eat. But we can only provide what we're able to. People have forgotten what meat is here, so they usually ask for simple daily needs, like bread. Even fruit is now a luxury.
In 2017, the U.N. reckoned tens of thousands of families here were in severe need. Fast-forward four years through a devastating economic crisis and a year of lockdowns, and more than half Lebanon's population living in poverty, with Tripoli one of the hardest-hit areas.
Tripoli is the poorest city in the country. Its residents have long felt neglected by the government. And now it's asking them to stay inside, while doing little to help them survive. The cry here has become: I'd rather risk coronavirus than starve to death.
Other countries compensate citizens during lockdowns. What we have in Tripoli? Nothing. Tripoli is now a beggar's city. And the politicians pay no attention, except during elections.
Even as life becomes increasingly unaffordable, the barest necessities like bread, fuel and medicines are still being subsidized by the government.
But there's little left in the state coffers. And in a cruel twist, while Lebanese chafe against the lockdown, having fewer people on the streets has helped stretch out the remaining funds. Once they're scrapped, a move expected imminently. Bread prices could double or even triple again.
One family Mazen helps, the Ibrahims, live in a three-room apartment in the run-down Jabu Mohsen (ph) neighborhood. In the past year, each of them lost their jobs one by one. The lockdown was the final blow, stopping Elham's cleaning work. Now they have been without income for weeks.
They're surviving on handouts and never know where their next meal is coming from.
Elham Ibrahim (through translator):
There's nothing in it. I only have got this and that. On good days, I cook some rice and lentils or some potatoes. With what money am I supposed to buy a kilo of meat for $5? I live off whatever people and God can spare.
The fridge doesn't work, and she can't afford to fix it. Even if it did, they'd rarely have the electricity to run it.
State-supplied power is intermittent across the country. Here, they only get four or five hours a day and can't afford costly fuel for a backup generator. A neighbor let them hook up a single lightbulb to their generator, so they can have a little light.
We didn't even have full stomachs to begin with. Everyone is starved and destitute now and became even more so. I cry every single day. What else can I do? I sleep and I wake, and sorrow is always with me.
Many who can are ignoring the rules altogether.
Khalid Bawab hasn't closed his hair salon for a day since the start of the lockdown.
Khalid Bawab (through translator):
We're struggling to survive. How can we shut our businesses for weeks straight?
He knows he could be fined or arrested for breaking the rules or catch the virus with no health insurance to get treatment. But it's a risk he feels he has to take, hoping he will earn enough to feed his family for another couple of days.
We're not thieves or terrorist. I just want to be able to make ends meet. No one's helping, certainly not the government.
And that anti-government anger is boiling over onto the streets. Every night for nearly a week of the lockdown extension was announced, Tripoli's central Al Nour Square was flooded with protesters facing down tanks.
Rocks and molotov cocktails flew at riot troops. Public buildings were set ablaze. They called for the fall of the government.
Jad Minha (through translator):
Our government doesn't bat an eyelid and abandons us penniless and starving. Still, they expect us to follow these rules, when we're already suffocated by unemployment. The people here have had enough and no longer care about any pandemic. We're already dead.
Parliament's only response, to deploy even more security forces. One young man was killed when they opened live fire. The square where he bled to death is still plastered with pictures of another young Tripolitan killed in that same square less than a year ago protesting for similar demands, bread, work, dignity.
But, for Elham, the time to fight for a better life has come and gone.
What good came of that? They're expressing their anger, but, unfortunately, no one is listening. They can feel free to set fire to the whole country, but these politicians are still safe in their homes, doing nothing. We're the ones who pay the price.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Leila Molana-Allen in Tripoli, Lebanon.
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