08/01/2020, 08.06
LEBANON
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Yet another suicide in Lebanon’s slow agony

by Pierre Balanian

Last night 53-year-old taxi driver, Vatchè Ohanian, committed suicide. His business decimated by Covid-19. In July there were a dozen suicides. The economic crisis has worsened since demonstrations against government corruption last October. Unemployment, inflation (a US dollar is now worth 8 thousand Lebanese pounds), an embargo - on Syria and Iran - which also affects Lebanon. And it is the people who are paying the toll.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The month of July will remain in modern Lebanese history as the month of suicides out of poverty and despair. After the four cases that occurred two days in a row in the first week of last month, yesterday evening at 19.30, Vatchè Ohanian, 53, was found by his mother hanging on a rope in the living room of their apartment, located in the Bourj Hammoud neighborhood, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the north Christian suburbs of Beirut.

A taxi driver, he was in a desperate situation especially after the decrease in work caused by the anti-Covid 19 measures adopted in the country. Three weeks ago there was another suicide attempt in Bourj Hammoud: a person had thrown himself from the bridge over the Beirut River, later  rescued by the Civil Protection.

Lebanon is agonizing in silence, in a country where the population is ashamed of being poor and out of dignity and pride prefers to show well-being, in order to avoid gossip and bankruptcy judgments of peers.

The number of suicides is likely to increase with the rapid free fall into one of the worst economic crises ever known. Tens of thousands of people have lost jobs over the past few months. It all began with the first popular demonstrations of 17 October last year, when the Lebanese, who reached the limit of endurance, took to the streets, united against the corruption of politicians who for over three decades have literally burgled the whole country and divided among themselves the accumulated foreign debts, making Lebanon the third most indebted country in the world. In addition, the country has crumbling infrastructure, social services, a total lack of public assistance in health, schools, pensions.

Since then, the US dollar, which had been stable for years at the price of 1500 Lebanese lira, has relentlessly started to rise against the lira, now reaching the threshold of 8000 lira per dollar. But even at this rate dollars are nowhere to be found on the black market.

In a country that imports everything and produces almost nothing, which Prime Minister Hariri decided to transform into a country of tourism, at the expense of small industry and agriculture, the prices established on the basis of the dollar have produced an unsustainable rise in prices to consumption.

Meanwhile, wages - for those who have not ended up unemployed - continue to be paid in Lebanese pounds, now completely devalued, which the Central Bank prints and places on the market as if it were waste paper. Worsening this is the black market trade in dollars by the Lebanese mafiosi to Syria and Iran in extreme need of the green currency following the embargo imposed by the US against these two countries.

"I am not an unbeliever but hunger is": the words of a song by Ziad Rahbani have resonated in everyone's ears since Ali Al Haq wrote it in early July leaving these words together with a copy of their toll booth judiciary, before committing suicide in the busy street of Hamra, the Champs Elysée of Beirut of the Belle Époque before the 1975 civil war.

 

After the demonstrations, Covid 19 came with the closure of almost all activities. And now the country suffers the indirect consequences of the blockade against Syria and anyone who collaborates with its government, according to the Caesar Act.

Lebanon, once considered the light of the Middle East, is now submerged in total darkness. It lacks  electricity, supplied for no more than three hours a day, and even the neighborhood generators, which sell private electricity, are no longer able to guarantee the supply service. Why? Diesel is in short supply in the country and, like the dollar, is nowhere to be found because it is also being smuggled to Syria through the illegal passes, located in the north of the country.

Lebanon is in agony, and everyone knows that the worst is yet to come. Old ghosts have come back to haunt the mind of a recent history that has never been forgotten: the hunger that Lebanon experienced during the First World War, when in the height of the fall of the empire the Ottomans imposed the hunger that caused the death of three quarters of the population.

Lebanon is under sanctions from the West and the rich Arab countries because of Hezbollah and Lebanese government policy, for masked and always denied support for the Syrian regime. Those who are paying the highest price are simple people who are increasingly poor, increasingly hungry and desperate, increasingly abandoned to themselves.

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