BEIRUT: After years of political turmoil and faced with growing economic hardship in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many Lebanese city-dwellers are voting with their feet in a bid to keep their lives afloat.
But where moving abroad would once have been an option, now people are abandoning the city and heading to family homes in the country, where they grow fruit and vegetables to cut expenses as the cost of living soars.
Disappointed and frustrated by the lack of political leadership, many Lebanese say that they can’t see light at the end of the tunnel. People can be seen sharing reports about increased economic hardships in 2021, with claims attributed to economists and even astrologers.
While the government waits on a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund to keep the economy running, the coronavirus crisis has added to the woes of the Lebanese and affected every sector of the economy.
Only days ago, Dr. Fadlo Khuri, president of the American University of Beirut (AUB), issued an internal memo highlighting the financial crisis facing the institution.
The AUB board of trustees also spoke about the “painful measures” needed if the university — established in 1866 and considered a Middle East icon — is to survive.
Lebanon’s currency crisis has resulted in a drop in the value of salaries and wages in both the public and private sectors, with the minimum wage of 675,000 liras now equivalent to $168, a decline of 63 percent.
Amid talk about harsh years ahead, many families are replanning their future, with migration from the capital and bigger cities to the villages as a first step.
Mohammed Hamza, who is self-employed in Beirut, said he plans to rent out his family house in the capital and return to his village in the south, where his children will enroll in a public school.
Hamza and his wife will re-establish themselves in the town, and grow vegetables and fruit to save money.
Another businessman, who declined to be named, said that he hopes to buy sheep and keep them on his farm in the mountains to avoid possible meat shortages.
Zainab Hassoun, a resident of Beirut’s southern suburbs, said: “Many people have decided to return to their villages in the south and the Bekaa. Some are planting productive trees, while others are growing olives, vegetables and fruit to reduce their cost of living.”
According to Bashir Ismat, a professor of social sciences, Lebanon’s cities have lost their role as business centers, while basic services have improved in the countryside.
“People are returning to their villages because they fear hunger and lack confidence that successive governments will improve life,” he said.
“When people ran out of options, they used to emigrate, but in light of the current global crises, this type of migration is no longer possible. People in Lebanon are seeking individual solutions.”
However, Ismat described their efforts as “futile and not a long-term solution.”
He said that the crisis in confidence is costing political and party leaderships grassroots support.
“When people seek individual solutions, it means they no longer trust the policies of their leaders,” he said.
“The current leadership has no vision for Lebanon’s future.”
Ismat said that he fears Lebanon may be heading toward a dictatorship or a country run by paramilitary groups.