To get to the center of Beirut from the airport – first you must travel through a black hole. The main road that connects the airport to Lebanon’s capital is completely dark. The only light comes seconds at a time, from the headlights of cars who whiz by despite the rocketing fuel price. Surrounded by the unknown: there is no light in the window of any building, everything is off. The illuminated houses can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The ones who can afford a generator for electricity are lucky, the others have at most a few candles.
For months, due to the severe energy and economic crisis in Lebanon, it hasn’t been possible to guarantee the supply of electricity throughout the day. Blackouts have become frequent. In Beirut, even in the bourgeois neighborhoods, it’s not unusual for the power to go out at any moment and suddenly turn back on in the middle of the night. This is the effect of an energy crisis, a deep-rooted emergency in Lebanon. Energy has been a problem as early as 2018, when the public company matched just 63% of the nation’s electricity demand – in 2022, this crisis is getting drastically worse and creating widespread inequality throughout Lebanese society. “When the West called us the Switzerland of the Middle-East it did not really know what it was talking about,” says Rashid driving his taxi.
Amplifying the drama is the country’s economic crisis. Lebanon has been brought to its knees by the explosion of the port and irreversibly injured by the war in Ukraine. The past two years, Lebanon relied on Ukraine for 66% of its grains and 12% from Russia. Today, there are no supply lines here and the nation can’t even count on a steady supply of grain stock. On top of that, the dramatic explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4th 2020 has left the capital, still, in a damaged state.
“It is the third time I have come and this time I have seen how this profound economic crisis is being felt.” Says Colonel Claudio Guaschino, commander of the ‘Serenissima’ Lagunari Regiment on its third mission in the Land of the Cedars. “Amongst the population there is considerable difficulty in securing essential services. There is a shortage of medicines, difficulties in procuring diesel fuel – which is also used to build wells to extract water, and the price of bread has skyrocketed.” Guaschino, who was also here in 2006, during the most dramatic period of conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, worries for Lebanon’s future. “Today’s situation seems even worse than back then. If a solution is not found at the government level, there is a real risk things could get worse.”
In the south of the country, dotted with an array of small villages, life is even worse, explains Abdul Qader Safiyeddine, mayor of Shama – a village a few kilometers from the Israel-Lebanon border. “These villages have been abandoned by the Lebanese government. If there is a hole in the street, nobody takes care of it except the Italian contingent of Unifil.” Shama, a small village of 4 thousand, middle ground in area that has always been unstable, has always linked its fortunes (if they can be called that) to the Italian base of the UN that the village hosts in its territory.
“In all of the villages around the area, Unifil, brought water to the homes of the Lebanese. By building wells, building retaining walls and rebuilding the roads. In addition, 250 people work on the base, all Lebanese, who take their salary in euros. This is a great help for them to live.”