Electricity in Lebanon was cut for a day, but the crisis had been brewing for years

from Lebanon electricity failed over the weekend, plunging the country into new difficulties in addition to Economic collapse, political corruption, and a deadly explosion at a port in Beirut last year.

Although the limited power was restored Sunday after about 24 hours of blackouts, the collapse of the public electricity grid on Saturday is just the most extreme manifestation of a chronic fuel shortage that has plagued Lebanon since. the last year and a half.

Lebanese citizens have been battling for years with the state power company, Electricité du Liban, and its shortcomings mean that private generators are common, at least for those who can afford them. Even in an ordinary week, it is common for people to have as little as one or two hours daily electricity from the public grid.

But the crisis came to a head on Saturday when the country’s two largest power plants ran out of diesel fuel to provide even a few hours of electricity in a country already facing multiple crises.

The Deir Ammar and Zahrani power plants shut down quickly over the weekend after fuel ran out, leaving the Lebanese population of more than 6.8 million people without public electricity. The blackout comes just over a week after the government authorized a contract with a turkish society the supply of electricity via two barges off the coast of Beirut is cut off, thus cutting off this supply of energy.

Although common, private generators proved insufficient during the blackout – as Beirut-based journalist Bel Trew highlighted on Twitter on SaturdayNot only are these generators incredibly expensive to operate and also prone to fuel shortages in Lebanon, they do little to keep essential services like hospitals running.

According to Washington Post reporters Nader Durgham and Liz Sly, even before the weekend blackout, chronic fuel shortages meant hospitals were “forced to suspend operations or shut down vital procedures,” among a multitude. Other problems.

“It’s drastic, and it’s been drastic for a while”, Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayyad told the Post. “With a few hours a day, people can go about their basic needs for a few hours, and of course better than nothing, but the situation is dire and we need more than a few hours a day.”

But Lebanese citizens have expressed the situation in clearer terms.

“We have forgotten what electricity means,” said Abdul-Hadi al-Sibai, a Beirut taxi driver. New York Times.

A Donation of 6 million liters of fuel Lebanese armed forces brought power back on Sunday, ahead of schedule initially planned by the central government of Lebanon. However, this is not a permanent solution – according to Reuters, the new fuel reserve will only be enough to keep the lights on for three days. A shipment from Iraq is expected to boost fuel supply later this month, according to Al Jazeera, and the energy ministry announced on Sunday that it had received a $ 100 million in fuel credit from the central bank of Lebanon, so that the country can once again pay to import fuel.

Lebanon has struggled with energy problems for decades; Outages lasting several hours have long been a part of everyday life. But the country’s current economic crisis, combined with political corruption, has transformed what was once a serious, but for many, manageable inconvenience into a much more acute crisis.

“There is no fuel and limited production, so the frequency variation ruins the network,” said Marc Ayoub, energy researcher at the American University of Beirut. Al Jazeera.

Lebanon’s blackout is just one of multiple crises

The shutdown comes as Lebanon experiences shocking hyperinflation; the Lebanese pound, pegged to the dollar, fell 90 percent in value since fall 2019 and is currently trading around 18,900 lira per dollar on the black market. Before Lebanon Economic implosion 2019, the exchange rate was 1500 lire to the dollar.

This astronomical inflation makes ordinary goods such as medicines hard to find, let alone enough fuel to power an entire country.

Critically, the worsening crises have serious political implications, both inside and outside Lebanon. Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group – which is part of the Lebanese government, although the United States has identified it as a terrorist group – has trucked in gasoline from Iran via the Syria, according to a New York Times report last month, apparently ignoring US sanctions.

Currently, according to the Washington Post, these US sanctions are also a major obstacle to a plan for Lebanon to import gas from Egypt via Syria, which could improve the long-term prospects of the Lebanese power grid. That may soon change, as US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea confirmed in August that the Biden administration is looking for “real and lasting solutions for Lebanon’s fuel and energy needs.”

For now, however, the Lebanese government has been conspicuously absent in responding to the interconnected crises facing the country, despite the fact that Lebanon formed a new government last month. This absence only underscored Hezbollah’s ability to provide basic commodities where the central government fails, potentially giving the group a greater foothold in the country.

The new Lebanese government is also its first functional administration since a major explosion rocked its capital, Beirut, last year, according to the BBC. In the aftermath of this crisis, the current government resigned, creating an impasse that took 13 months to settle.

The Lebanese political system has allowed chaos for years

In June, the world Bank identified the collapse of the Lebanese financial system as “in the top 10, perhaps the top three, the most severe crisis episodes in the world since the mid-19th century”, adding that there is no idea of ​​how the nation will recover from such a disaster.

Despite this severe diagnosis, global players like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have so far largely refused to intervene due to a lack of confidence in the Lebanese government and its reluctance to deal with one of the many interconnected and deeply rooted crises facing the country.

Specifically, Lebanon’s financial collapse in 2019 is the result of decades of bad economic policy: ultra-rich and deeply entrenched civil servants have long benefited from a particular political system and have grown even richer in using public funds. From 2018 to 2020, the country’s GDP fell from $ 55 billion to $ 33 billion, a dizzying drop usually associated with the outbreak of conflict, according to a recent World Bank report.

Calls for the resignation of the entire government, with the rallying cry “Tous, c’est tous” erupted in October 2019, after fundraising attempts by tax the use of WhatsApp, the messaging service widely used both in Lebanon and to communicate with the rest of the world, including a large Lebanese diaspora.

This resignation finally took place – but not until August 2020, after a massive explosion in Beirut, caused by more than 2,700 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate, killed hundreds, injured thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless. The explosion also destroyed Lebanon’s main grain silo, leaving the country with less than a month of reserves at the time. It also destroyed the Beirut port area, which handled around 70 percent of food imports in a country that imports about 85 percent of its food.

Despite popular outrage that prompted the previous Lebanese government to resign, there are signs that the new administration, led by Najib Mikati, billionaire and the richest man in Lebanon, will be more or less the same. Mikati, who is now prime minister, has held the post twice before, meaning it comes from the exact system that has plunged the country into its current upheaval.

This government, as Faysal Itani, assistant professor of Middle East politics and security at Georgetown University, wrote for Vox last year, is deeply rooted, which makes it difficult to change, despite its many obvious problems. As Itani explains:

The Lebanese political system is the product of a decades-old power-sharing agreement between the leaders of Lebanon’s 18 religious sects, the most important of which are Sunni and Shia Muslims and Maronite Christians. This system, known as confessionalism, distributed political power according to sectarian quotas, with each sect usually being led by one or more members of prominent political families.

Despite the lack of public services and the blatant corruption of those in power, Lebanese politicians have generally been adept at playing on sectarian conflicts and doing just what it takes to please their constituents.

However, the depth of the current crises in Lebanon, illustrated by the outright collapse of the state’s electricity grid on Saturday, means that the status quo of previous Lebanese governments may not be sufficient for the future. Already, Mikati, the new prime minister, has pledged end the fuel crisis and resume talks with the IMF to support the economy, a potential lifeline for Lebanon – if it keeps its promise.

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