THE formation of a government in Lebanon last week — after more than a year without one — has been greeted with cautious optimism by the Lebanese people, says Serop Ohanian, the field director of the Karagheusian Association. This is one of ten partner organisations in Lebanon supported by the UK-based ecumenical charity Embrace the Middle East.
“Some people are hopeful that things might eventually change,” Mr Ohanian said on Tuesday. “But at best it will be very slow. Right now, on the ground, nothing has changed. We are in the same pit hole.”
The Lebanese, he continued, were waking each morning to face a list of worries and challenges. These included concerns that no petrol would be available, meaning that many people might not be able to get to work; and anxiety that the supply of electricity might last for just two hours. Then there was the issue of finding enough money to buy basics: banks were dispensing only Lebanese pounds that had barely any purchasing power because of the collapse of the currency against the dollar.
“Perhaps the biggest worry”, Mr Ohanian said, “is that someone in the family gets sick. Or, say, your mother or father has hypertension or diabetes. It becomes a real challenge to know where I’m going to find the medications they need.”
All these factors are putting the Lebanese under enormous stress. As manager of a health-care centre in Beirut, Mr Ohanian sees clearly the extent of the problem: “The number of psychotropic drugs being dispensed is huge, and is increasing. People are becoming more dependent on mental health-care and drugs. Anxiety disorder is increasing, depression is increasing, and therefore work productivity is decreasing, while illnesses are on the rise.”
Before the huge explosion at Beirut port in August last year (News, 7 August 2020), the Karagheusian Association was treating 250 patients a day. That figure has risen to 1000. “We are not equipped to handle this number in one day,” Mr Ohanian said. “But I don’t have a choice. If somebody is sick, he can’t afford to see a physician now: he comes to our clinic for free.”
How long the Karagheusian Association can continue providing care is questionable. With almost no electricity provided by the state, Mr Ohanian says, “I use my own diesel generators to keep our centres operational. I have one week’s supply left. If I can’t find somewhere to buy more diesel, then next Tuesday will be our last working day, and I will close the centre because I can’t operate.”
Key also to the survival of groups such as Karagheusian is funding. Embrace the Middle East’s programmes and partnerships manager for Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, Bruce Clark, says that the charity “is about to launch an appeal for Lebanon, requesting financial aid to help support relief and humanitarian work with the most vulnerable over the forthcoming months — likely to include blankets and mattresses, and fuel and food vouchers”.
Those being helped are not only Lebanese: they include Palestinians, the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and others.
Another challenge that Embrace and other agencies face is donor fatigue. “This is certainly an issue for Lebanon,” Mr Clark said. “Key donors, including the IMF, World Bank, European Union, and others have delayed financial support until the government gets its house in order.” The formation of a new Cabinet “is the first step for the donors to re-engage, and, if tangible reforms can be pushed through, it’s hoped that international financial support will resume”.
In the mean time, Mr Clark urges Christians to pray for Lebanon, “and give financially. We are hugely privileged to have brilliant supporting churches and individuals across the UK who pray and donate generously to Embrace’s work in Lebanon and across the Middle East.”