Lebanon failing its people: UN poverty envoy

Beirut (AFP) – The Lebanese government is letting down its people, the UN envoy on extreme poverty Olivier De Schutter said Friday, warning that the country is on course to becoming a failed state.


"Lebanon is not a failed state yet, but it is a failing state, with a government failing its population," he told a press conference in Beirut at the end of a 12-day visit to Lebanon.

"I saw scenes in Lebanon that I never imagined I would see in a middle-income country."

According to the United Nations, around 80 percent of Lebanon's population is estimated to be living under the poverty line as defined by international organisations.

The World Bank estimates poverty rates will increase by as much as 28 percent by the end of 2021 as Lebanon grapples with a financial crisis it has branded as one of the planet's worst in more than 150 years.

"While the population is trying to survive day-to-day, the government wastes precious time," De Schutter said.

"The government's inaction in the face of this unprecedented crisis has inflicted great misery on the population," he said.

A foreign currency crunch, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling elite, has seen the Lebanese pound lose 90 percent of its black-market value against the greenback since the crisis started in 2019.

It has prompted banks to deny depositors access to their dollar savings, forcing many to withdraw their money in Lebanese pounds at a central bank-set exchange rate, in what experts have called a de facto haircut.

'Sleep hungry'

Lebanon's fragile government, formed in September to stem the country's financial crash, has yet to take serious action to stop the downward spiral.

After having fully lifted subsidies on fuel, the authorities are now gradually reducing them on medicine and flour.

A long-promised ration card program to assist the country's poorest has yet to materialise, with the cash-strapped government struggling to secure World Bank funding.

Meanwhile, consumers are paying at least three times as much as a year ago for bread, grains, vegetables or meat, according to latest data from the Lebanese government.

A woman leaves a bakery with a bag of bread as people wait for their turn, in the neighbourhood of Nabaa in the Lebanese capital Beirut's southern suburbs
A woman leaves a bakery with a bag of bread as people wait for their turn, in the neighbourhood of Nabaa in the Lebanese capital Beirut's southern suburbs ANWAR AMRO AFP

To fill a medium-sized vehicle's tank, Lebanese would now have to pay more than the monthly minimum wage of 675,000 pounds ($29).

Last month, the Save the Children charity warned: "Children in Lebanon are skipping many of their meals as parents struggle to afford basic foods."

Among them is 33-year-old Mirna Momneh, a mother of four who is bracing to lose her nine-year-old daughter to a complicated brain tumour because she can't afford to buy her medicine, yet alone food.

"Every night, I go to sleep, expecting to wake up to find that my daughter has passed," she told AFP.

Mirna and her husband, a former taxi driver, are both unemployed, forcing the family to rely on sporadic handouts from a local mosque to put scarce food on the table.

"Sometimes, we go to sleep hungry," she said.