SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The World Bank says the economic crisis in Lebanon is one of the worst the world has seen in over a century. This is happening in a land of famous tourist spots that has enjoyed a thriving middle class and legendary nightlife. Ruth Sherlock of NPR is in Beirut.
Ruth, thank you very much for being with us.
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Thanks, Scott.
SIMON: Let’s start with what you’ve heard from people.
SHERLOCK: You know, Scott, it’s really terrible. Yesterday we went to this once flourishing Armenian Christian quarter. We met Hasme Tabatyan (ph) there. She was a home help but now has no regular income, and she tells us that whatever she earns doesn’t go away because of the inflation you mentioned.
HASME TABATYAN: (non-English language spoken).
SHERLOCK: She says she can’t afford to pay for a generator to get electricity when the state’s power goes out. And this is really one of the bases in Lebanon because state power sometimes only works for a few hours a day. And it’s a sweltering summer here. She can’t pay her rent either. She says she could be deported by the end of July if she can’t pay. And this, unfortunately, is not unique. It’s typical of what people go through. We met, for example, an unemployed chef who now collects garbage for a living and a teacher who cannot make ends meet with his salary. And that’s not surprising because baby milk now costs about a quarter of what they would earn in a month.
SIMON: And everything seems to be lacking in supplies, I guess.
SHERLOCK: There are commodity shortages, so you see gas lines that are miles long with people pushing cars by hand through those lines. We have already talked about power cuts, but the most serious is the impact on the health system. There are public hospitals that are closing and the shelves of pharmacies are poorly supplied. It’s not uncommon to see people crumble because they’ve been going from drugstore to drugstore trying to find sometimes, you know, important life-saving drugs.
SIMON: Ruth, why is all this happening now?
SHERLOCK: The point is, unfortunately, in many ways, this is a preventable crisis that is Lebanon’s own initiative. The government and banking folks here have either mismanaged, wasted, or stolen cash reserves, and now the state says it’s out of money. The Lebanese are understandably furious. I spoke about it with Yasmine Masri (ph). She became something of an instant celebrity here after a video went viral of her shouting, shame on you, at a senior politician in a restaurant and her bodyguards beating her up. She tells me that the crisis is actually a way to unite people.
YASMINE MASRI: Because you know what really unites people – when everyone gets poor, when everyone in the same country can’t go to the bank and don’t have medicine, can’t have water. running, can not have electricity, then everyone looks the same, you know, disaster. And that’s when you wake up.
SHERLOCK: It’s a very divided country, and people mainly supported the politicians who represent their sect. Now, more and more, however, people are saying that all politicians are the same. They are all part of the same corrupt political class.
SIMON: And the international community is reluctant to help in many ways, isn’t it?
SHERLOCK: That’s right. You know, they’ve seen financial aid wasted in the past because of incompetence and corruption. They want major reforms, but the politicians here don’t seem able or willing to implement them.
SIMON: Ruth Sherlock from NPR in Beirut, thank you very much.
SHERLOCK: Thank you.
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