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Drowning in garbage

Bad scores for Lebanon: in debt, and plummets in health and education

Joseph Eid .  Wednesday 28 September 2016

Beirut — “Good morning! I’m an AFP photographer. Would it be alright to use your roof to take pictures of the garbage mountain in front of your building?”

“Welcome, welcome my dear, come in. Would you like some coffee? I can give you a full interview if you want. Will your pictures show how bad the smell is?”

Since Lebanon’s trash crisis began last July, I have asked this question dozens — perhaps hundreds — of times. I am greeted with the same enthusiasm each time, with residents eagerly ushering me onto their rooftops or near their windows to snap pictures of the piles of rubbish lining Lebanon’s roads.

Andrew Bossone shared this link. September 30 at 7:07am ·

“Everyone I’ve spoken to in my work as an AFP photographer and in my daily life as a Lebanese citizen has given up. They have surrendered entirely to the idea that the ongoing garbage crisis exemplifies what is wrong with Lebanon: A political class that has no interest in serving the public.

This political class, Lebanese people say, has intentionally manufactured or at least prolonged a crisis because it has yet been Unable to agree on how to “divide up the cake.””

After several rounds of government deals on the issue, we thought the waste crisis had been brought under control. But over the past month, piles of garbage have once again invaded our streets and neighbourhoods, from Lebanon’s rocky mountains to the capital’s busy streets.

My 40 kilometre commute to work takes me from the beautiful coastal town of Byblos along the seaside highway to Beirut. Day by day, as I drive this route, I notice garbage accumulate along both sides of the highway, near exit roads that lead into residential neighbourhoods, and under huge concrete bridges.

While driving to Beirut one morning, I noticed a giant cloud of smoke several kilometres away. I veered off the road to track down where it was coming from.

It was a massive construction pit filled to the brim with flaming rubbish. I immediately began snapping photos, as two firefighters emerged from the smoke, calling for backup as they had run out of water to extinguish the fire.

It looked like a disaster movie — except that joggers and people walking their pets just strolled by, completely unfazed by the gruesome scene unfolding before them.

It seemed surreal — are they drugged? I thought. More likely, the situation has become so commonplace that they’ve become numb to the heaps of trash around them.

The following day, I saw a river of garbage — bags piled up on a bridge that serves as one of the main thoroughfares into Beirut. The only way to capture a telling picture would be from an elevated position, so I began making the rounds in nearby buildings to find a suitable lookout point.

The smell was overwhelming — I couldn’t imagine how anyone was living this close to such a putrid monument. A concierge spotted me looking around and knew exactly what I needed. “Do you want to get a postcard of this new tourist site? Come with me and I’ll show you!” he shouted.

He led me up 14 storeys to the rooftop. What a view. I could see Beirut’s perennially-bustling port, the old and new buildings of the city, and, of course, the smoke rising from burning garbage piles across the capital. I could also spot the new garbage dump in Karantina, a mountain in a forest of buildings.

Then, I saw it: Lebanon’s new ski slope.

But instead of freshly fallen snow, the white hill was made of garbage bags, extending for several hundred meters along the Jdeideh bridge, which links the Metn area to Beirut. Once again, commuters were zipping past without a second glance.

I took the pictures I needed and thanked the concierge for his help. As I showed him the photographs, he smiled and complimented the “beauty of my frames,” as if he was looking at a picture of a beautiful woman or a postcard from the Caribbean islands.

It’s shameful. The blatant lethargy of the Lebanese has stunned me.

They are absolutely convinced that nothing can be done — that their fate has been sealed by the governing political elite. They are angry and upset, but they suffer silently, without hope of a real solution.

Along to the warm welcomes that I’ve received from residents whose rooftops I used as vantage points, I also repeatedly heard the following phrases:

“Please make sure to show the world what they are doing to us.”

“We are dying of cancer.”

“We are overwhelmed by viruses, infections, and bacteria.”

“You work for a foreign agency, show the world. Please don’t let this pass unseen. We want the colonial powers to come to rule over us again, at least we would have institutions and wouldn’t be drowning in garbage.”

“A country the size of a small town in the west is unable to elect a president, all its public institutions are dysfunctional, its services and infrastructure are rotten… Why would anyone want to live in such a failed state?”

Everyone I’ve spoken to in my work as an AFP photographer and in my daily life as a Lebanese citizen has given up. They have surrendered entirely to the idea that the ongoing garbage crisis exemplifies what is wrong with Lebanon: A political class that has no interest in serving the public.

This political class, Lebanese people say, has intentionally manufactured or at least prolonged a crisis because it has not yet been able to agree on how to “divide up the cake.”

Because Lebanon’s leaders cannot agree, some have resorted to sectarian discourse as a tool to deflect public scrutiny and camouflage their own culpability.

Others have irresponsibly suggested that municipalities, which have been handcuffed by the same elite for years, take on the responsibility of processing waste in light of the fact that the elite have failed to do so.

Still others have called on citizens to find a solution to the garbage crisis, a move which only highlights the bankruptcy of the politicians.

But until a lasting solution is found, I will keep climbing up buildings to capture Beirut’s increasingly-littered horizon.

 Note: Lebanon globally ranks 3rd in debt, plummets in health and education

Tonnie Ch and Ziad Abi Chaker shared Newsroom Nomad link.
#NewsroomNomad #Lebanon #Health #Education #Corruption #Debt


A history of cities in 50 buildings: Holiday Inn in Lebanon

Though Lebanon has been swept by a gentrifying and disfiguring development rush, some older monuments still stand tall.

Strolling downhill from the Clemenceau neighbourhood for a coffee on the seaside Corniche, you’ll see the towering building of the Holiday Inn: bullet-riddled and rocket-pierced.

The once-plush hotel, which opened for business just two years before the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, has remained in Beirut’s collective memory – not for its glamour or architectural design, but as a front-line, a demarcation between east and west, and a symbol of war.

Beirut’s bullet-riddled Holiday Inn

A history of cities in 50 buildings, day 28

The once-plush hotel stands empty as a reminder of the city’s brutal civil war, while the surrounding districts are swept up in glitzy redevelopments

Today, entry to Beirut’s Holiday Inn is forbidden to the public. The building’s 24 floors are desolate.


The Holiday Inn represented an affluent time for the city: the building became part of a luxury developmental bubble at a time when Beirut’s banks were growing fat on deposits from the region’s petrodollars.

However, the civil war obliterated the hotel’s ambitions of becoming a social hub, with cinemas and restaurants crowned by a rooftop rotating restaurant towering over the district.

In October 1975, just months into the Lebanese civil war, the hotel became part of an epic battle dubbed “the war of the hotels”.

It lasted until March 1976 and mobilised around 25,000 fighters from both sides, resulting in more than 1,000 dead and 2,000 injured.

Holiday Inn, Beirut

A pro-Palestinian fighter in the destroyed Holiday Inn hotel, after militias dislodged Lebanese Christian forces from the hotel. Photograph: Xavier Baron/AFP/Getty Images

The Holiday Inn was the biggest in an area already jammed with hotels – an area that became strategically important because of its proximity to the sea: it was located between the coastal neighbourhoods of Ain el-Mresi and Mina al-Hosn, on top of a hill overlooking the city.

As the civil war began to polarise the city into east and west, the two main antagonists – the Lebanese Front (Christian rightwing militias backed by the Lebanese army) and the National Movement (Lebanese leftist parties backed by Palestine’s PLO) – raced to capture the district.

Seen by militants as a strategic military asset, the Holiday Inn became a trophy in the battle.

“We descended on the hotel district from three directions,” recalls Abu Ali, 66, a veteran of the war on the side of the National Movement. “The battle to take the Holiday Inn dragged on. That building felt like an unshakable castle. The Christian fighters who had raced us to it managed to create supply lines that kept feeding their fighters barracked in the hotel, and positioned their snipers on the upper floors and rooftop.”

Heavy artillery was fired from surrounding rooftops, pounding the Holiday Inn and creating the damage that is still visible today.

“Shortly after the battle, hordes of scavengers entered the building and stripped it down to its bones,” Ali said. “The Holiday Inn was then sold on the streets of Beirut: beds, silver spoons, curtains.”

Later, after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut – in the second phase of the civil war – the Holiday Inn building was once again disputed turf, this time between former allies; with the al-Mourabitoun losing control of the building to the Amal Movement.

These battles were, in a sense, an introvert war fought by the city’s occupants who turned their own homes into an open battleground – a war fought from alley to alley, building to building.

A symbol of Lebanon's golden age, but also its brutal civil war, the empty shell of the Holiday Inn hotel could soon be redeveloped.

A symbol of Lebanon’s golden age, but also its brutal civil war, the empty shell of the Holiday Inn hotel could soon be redeveloped. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP

Since the conflict’s end, the shareholders of the bullet-riddled building have been locked in a dispute over its future.

The Lebanese partners Compagnie Immobiliere Libanaise wanted to renovate the building and set up luxury lofts for rent or sale. However, the Kuwaiti group that owns half wanted to demolish it, and build a new tower block similar to those in the surrounding downtown area.

Today, entry is forbidden to the public. The building’s 24 floors are desolate: shrubs sprout from the concrete floors, the grey mouldering walls still bearing scars of countless bullet holes and political graffiti from a bygone era. Its Lebanese and Kuwaiti owners recently declared their intention to put the building up for auction.

Many years after the fighting ceased, the building has become a popular site for underground dance parties. On a Saturday night in 1998, many Lebanese mingled in the same building where 23 years earlier their parents had fought each other. I was one of the revellers: we snuck out of our parents’ homes and drank and danced until the early hours on a site still vividly synonymous with the 15-year civil war.

In spite of the postwar efforts to resurrect Lebanon’s elusive golden age, the country once more teeters on the edge of an abyss. Lurking in the background of the glitzy, redeveloped downtown district, the disfigured façade of the Holiday Inn stands as a reminder that Lebanon’s civil war politics are far from resolved.







Four years in the Syrian civil war: Repercussion on Unemployment in Lebanon

Former minister Charbel Nahas said:

“The Syrian crisis deepened inequalities in Lebanon society”

« La crise des réfugiés a rendu la société libanaise encore plus inégalitaire qu’elle ne l’était. »

Depuis le début du soulèvement en Syrie, l’économie libanaise, affectée par l’instabilité régionale et locale, tourne au ralenti.

Les taux de croissance annuels d’environ 2 % enregistrés ces quatre dernières années (contre 8 % en 2010) masquent une sombre réalité socio-économique dans les régions périphériques, où s’est installée la majorité des réfugiés syriens, en particulier dans le Akkar, Tripoli, la Békaa, et le Liban-Sud.

Car si l’économie a pu s’adapter à la baisse des exportations, du tourisme et des investissements, le marché de l’emploi absorbe très difficilement le choc démographique que représente l’accueil d’environ 1,2 million de refugiés.

Selon la Banque mondiale, la population active a augmenté de 15,4 % au Liban depuis le début de la crise syrienne. Photo Joseph Eid

Quatre ans après le soulèvement en Syrie, la guerre civil en Syrie a eu un impact globalement mitigé sur l’économie libanaise qui continue de résister tant bien que mal.
En revanche, le choc démographique que représente l’afflux des réfugiés syriens a bouleversé le marché de l’emploi.

La population du Liban a ainsi augmenté de près de 30 % en quatre ans.

Cet afflux s’est accompagné d’une aide humanitaire internationale, estimée à 800 millions de dollars par an.  (The minister of finance has no formal reliable data on any kinds of aids)

En soutenant la demande, les aides versées aux refugiés ont permis, à elles seules, de générer 1,3 % de croissance en 2014, souligne l’économiste Kamal Hamdan.
Ces aides sont insuffisantes pour permettre aux réfugiés de vivre décemment, ne serait-ce que pour payer des loyers qui ont flambé sous la pression de la demande.

Une enquête menée par l’Organisation internationale du travail (OIT) en 2013 auprès de 2 000 réfugiés avait révélé que près de la moitié d’entre eux travaillent pour compléter leurs revenus.

Plus de main-d’œuvre pour autant d’emplois
La population active, c’est-à-dire l’ensemble des résidents en âge de travailler (employés ou chômeurs), a augmenté de 15,4 % en quatre ans, selon les estimations de la Banque mondiale.

Étant donné le contexte économique morose, il est admis que les créations d’emplois n’ont pas suivi, même si les statistiques manquent cruellement dans ce domaine.

« Le taux de chômage (toutes nationalités comprises), qui était estimé à environ 11 % avant la crise, est passé à 18 voire 20 % », affirme l’économiste Kamal Hamdan.

« Si l’on ne considère que les Libanais, le nombre de sans-emplois a sans doute doublé, avec au moins 150 000 chômeurs de plus en quatre ans. »

En cause : le marasme économique, mais surtout la concurrence de la main-d’œuvre syrienne, prête à accepter des salaires largement inférieurs à ceux des Libanais.
Contrairement aux idées reçues, les qualifications des travailleurs libanais et syriens ne sont pas très éloignées.

« Le chômage au Liban ne touche pas essentiellement les personnes qualifiées comme on le pense, puisque de nombreux jeunes diplômés trouvent du travail à l’étranger et émigrent. Les personnes non qualifiées en revanche n’ont pas d’alternatives. On estime que 48 % de la population active libanaise a un niveau d’études élémentaire », indique l’économiste et ancien ministre du Travail, Charbel Nahas.
Pour ces derniers, la concurrence syrienne n’est pas un phénomène nouveau.

Bien avant 2011, les ouvriers syriens avaient déjà largement remplacé les Libanais dans les emplois non qualifiés du secteur agricole et celui de la construction.

« Les Libanais non qualifiés s’étaient alors tournés vers le secteur des services qui représente 60 % de l’économie. Ils travaillaient essentiellement dans les petits commerces, en tant que vendeurs, serveurs, cuisiniers, coiffeurs, etc. Mais aujourd’hui on observe un effet de substitution aussi dans ce secteur », constate le directeur de l’Institut du Levant pour les affaires stratégiques (LISA), Sami Nader.

Effet de substitution à tous les niveaux
Étant donné l’abondance de l’offre, la concurrence s’étend également aux emplois semi-qualifiés. Selon l’enquête de l’OIT, 45 % des réfugiés occupent un emploi non qualifié (agriculture, construction, concierge, chauffeurs…) et 43 % occupent un emploi semi-qualifié (menuisier, forgeron, industries agroalimentaires..), à des salaires imbattables.

Le revenu mensuel moyen d’un ouvrier syrien était de 418 000 livres par mois en 2013, la moitié de celui d’un Libanais non qualifié.
Cette forte concurrence a tiré le niveau des rémunérations à la baisse.

Toujours selon l’OIT, le salaire moyen d’un travailleur non qualifié a reculé de 30 % à Baalbeck et de 50 % à Wadi Khaled.

Près de 90 % des ouvriers libanais interrogés par l’OIT dans la Békaa ont constaté une baisse de leurs revenus. En moyenne, la Banque mondiale parle d’une baisse de la richesse par habitant au Liban d’environ 11 % depuis le début de la guerre en Syrie. Mais tous les habitants ne sont pas logés à la même enseigne.
En réduisant les coûts de production, la baisse des salaires a bénéficié aux entreprises.

En l’absence d’investissements, « cela s’est traduit par une hausse des profits du capital », souligne Kamal Hamdan.

L’OIT conclut dans son rapport que « les propriétaires de terrains et d’entreprises, et les autres membres de la classe moyenne et aisée profitent de la crise des réfugiés, tandis que les ménages libanais les plus pauvres et les plus vulnérables sont les plus menacés ». Charbel Nahas dresse le même constat : « La crise des réfugiés a rendu la société libanaise encore plus inégalitaire qu’elle ne l’était. »

4 000 nouveaux agents des FSI
Par manque d’opportunités de travail, les Libanais les plus défavorisés se dirigent donc vers le seul secteur qui leur est encore réservé : la fonction publique.

Et le gouvernement n’hésite pas à utiliser ce levier pour absorber le choc. Au début de l’année, les Forces de sécurité intérieure (FSI) ont embauché 4 000 nouveaux éléments et s’apprêtent à en recruter 4 000 autres.

« Par rapport à un million d’actifs libanais ce chiffre est énorme, souligne Charbel Nahas. C’est comme si la France, qui compte 30 millions d’actifs, recrutait 120 000 policiers d’un coup. » Selon lui, 120 000 Libanais travaillent aujourd’hui dans les services de sécurité de l’État (armée, FSI, Sûreté générale).

Proportionnellement, cela représente 7 fois les effectifs actuels de la France.

Pistes de réflexion
Pour le moment, c’est l’une des deux seules solutions qu’a trouvées le gouvernement pour réguler le marché de l’emploi.

La deuxième  solution étant de limiter l’octroi de permis de travail à la main-d’œuvre étrangère.

Le ministre du Travail a fait de la régularisation des travailleurs syriens son cheval de bataille. Mais ses ambitions sont limitées par les moyens dont il dispose, sachant que près de 90 % des refugiés interrogés par le BIT en 2013 travaillaient sans contrat, et que le ministère du Travail compte une dizaine d’inspecteurs sur le terrain.
« Il faut faire pression sur les entreprises, les menacer de sanctions », estime Kamal Hamdan.
Le directeur de LISA, Sami Nader, plaide, lui, pour des « solutions créatives » en considérant qu’il faut canaliser la main-d’œuvre syrienne dans le secteur de la construction et dans l’agriculture. « Pourquoi ne pas employer les réfugiés dans des unités de production offshore financées par des bailleurs internationaux et destinées à l’export vers les pays du Golfe par exemple? »
De son côté, Charbel Nahas propose une politique de relance de l’emploi à l’échelle nationale. « Il faut un sursaut à la hauteur du choc.
Le Liban doit se tourner vers la communauté internationale pour financer un mécanisme de subventions à l’investissement au lieu de se contenter des aides humanitaires. » Mais pour cela, ajoute-t-il, « il faut sortir du déni et reconnaître que le pays est au bord de l’implosion ».




May 2023

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