Lebanon’s Civil war survivors reminisce over what they call were “better days” than the current economic crisis

Beirut, April 14 2021: Lebanon is living through its worst economic crisis in recent history and survivors of the civil war from 3 decades ago fear this slow death from poverty is worse than what happened back then.

This week marks 46 years since clashes erupted in Beirut between Lebanese Christians and Palestinians backed by leftist and Muslim factions, marking the start of a 15-year conflict that drew in regional powers Israel and Syria and the country divided into warring sectarian factions.The conflict ended in 1990 with 150,000 dead and 17,000 missing.

A survivor of the civil war, Abla Barotta, recalls her experience saying, “We used to hide in houses or basements every time we heard shelling during the war, but today, where can we go to hide from hunger, the economic crisis, the coronavirus pandemic and our political leaders? We used to fear death from bombardment or sniper fire, but now we fear everything: illness, poverty and hunger.” “This anxiety over whether we will be able to eat tomorrow… we’ve never lived that before,” she said. “Sometimes I can’t sleep at night.” She echoes a sentiment shared by many, that death by bombardment is nothing compared to this fear of dying slowly from poverty.

Even at the height of the conflict, Lebanon managed to preserve a semblance of normal life between bouts of heightened violence and kidnappings. The wheels of Lebanon’s economy kept turning, bolstered by money and weapons sent to warring parties from abroad.

The legacy of the fighting however left  permanent bitter political divisions. This coupled with negligence and corruption are the reason the death knell has sounded for the fragile middle class who bear the brunt of the economic slump. With people fighting over basic amenities like food and drugs, the Lebanese pound has crashed against the dollar and the pandemic has further exacerbated by the port blast ravaging Beirut in addition to the pandemic.

A survivor of the port blast, Jean Saliba, a 63 year old former civil servant, points to the buildings awaiting renovation and listed the names of families who lost loved ones in Lebanon’s worst peace-time disaster with non-governmental groups spearheading the calls for reconstruction. She says if it weren’t for aid from the NGOs, people wouldn’t have the strength to go on.

Like Barotta, Saliba agrees the collective catastrophes make the war-time suffering look like “a drop in the ocean”. During the war, people could go back to work when bombardment slowed at least. But with current unemployment rates approaching 40 percent, many don’t have jobs to return to. “Economically, we are finished.”

Another survivor of the civil war, Victor Abu Kheir, a barber in Al Hambra, says these days the most clientele he gets is 2 customers per day and that the civil war days were in some ways more merciful than the current crisis even though he himself survived being shot at and kidnapped. “There was money and the people were comfortable.”

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