Lebanon is a water-scarce country. There is not much water. A World Bank report states that groundwater is being exploited to an unsustainable extent and that coastal aquifers are suffering from the intrusion of seawater.
The infrastructure supporting the treatment and distribution of water has been described as outdated. In Beirut and Lebanon, citizens receive 13 hours of water during the rainy season and 3 hours during the dry season. Even then, water is often heavily rationed.
These are statistics that have been around for decades. Corrupt politicians and inefficient bureaucrats have only made matters worse.
Water is a privatized commodity, and most people without access to safe drinking water rely on private wells and tankers. It is estimated that less than half of Lebanese are connected to an official water supply that does not work.
As a result, one in three Lebanese has to buy an alternative source of drinking water from mobile vessels or bottles. Those who can’t afford to buy their water are falling through the cracks and relying on inferior water from their households.
Lebanon, too, is in the midst of an economic crisis. And where it gets really, really depressing.
When the country emerged from a brutal civil war in the 1990s, it was supervised by the economy, banks, tourism, foreign assistance, and remittances from Lebanese citizens working abroad. But as the country descended into chaos a decade later, foreign aid began to disappear.
The global financial crisis did even more damage in 2008, and other sources of foreign income began to disappear. Consider that foreign exchange reserves are the lifeblood of many economies.
If an importer trusts the dollar and you cannot convince him to deliver to you, you have to pay him in green numbers.
In the meantime, the government kept telling citizens they could get dollars for 1,500 Lebanese pounds. Lebanon’s central bank took the helm and decided to commit to an egregious program that could be described as a poorly regulated Ponzi scheme.
It promised to offer lucrative interest rates on Dollar deposits to entice people to buy back their Dollar assets. Faced with scarce dollars, the country began to struggle to pay for food, fuel, and other basic necessities. A disaster loomed if nothing was done.
The only problem was that it was a false promise. To maintain the exchange rate, one would have to exchange the national currency for a bank outside the country.
The local currency was essentially worthless. In the absence of production of goods and services, it had little or no value. It quickly became clear to everyone. Inflation soared and everyone began to abolish the currency. The only thing worth a dollar was an asset, and people wouldn’t give it to a bank.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, the Lebanese capital was rocked by a huge explosion that killed more than 200 people and decimated much of the area. I am sure that in 2020 you will remember the terrible video in which you can see the shockwave ripping apart everything that gets in its way.
This has happened, and this brings us into the present. The government is absolutely broken at the moment. Foreign exchange reserves are dwindling and the country is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
They do not have the means to pay maintenance staff or buy chlorine for water treatment. They do not even have the power to pump and extract the water from the water source. When the public water supply system collapses, 7 million people are looking for water. If they go and don’t save the country, it’s over. But this tragic series of events is not.