Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The electricity crisis in Lebanon is worsening as families face high bills and accidents on unlit streets

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In the midst of the economic crisis and failing infrastructure, families rely on expensive private generators to power their homes and businesses – if they can afford it

Lebanese families are paying the equivalent of nearly £ 490 a month for electricity generated by private generators after the country’s electricity crisis escalated when the entire country suffered a blackout.

The Lebanese power grid failed completely for more than 24 hours over the weekend after the country’s two main power plants had to be shut down due to fuel shortages.

Bashir Asmar, 40, a filmmaker from Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighborhood, said I that people were prepared for the blackout, as most households and businesses already got their electricity from private generators – if they could afford it.

In a normal week, the state power grid only supplies electricity for two to three hours a day.

“The situation is forcing us to find alternative ways to survive,” said Asmar.

Generators can only produce a limited amount of electricity and must be turned off for hours to cool down, leaving computer screens blank and food to rot in refrigerators.

Families have to wait for the two-hour window of the state electricity to be able to use devices with higher energy requirements such as washing machines or boilers for hot water in order to avoid high electricity bills.

Mr Asmar said he connects his generator for his neighbors – some of them families with children – to use his electricity as they cannot afford to keep their electricity running for long.

“This is the only way they can survive,” he said. “And the least I can do to make them live comfortably.”

His electricity bill is around a million Lebanese pounds (or lira) a month – nearly £ 490.

A 2017 law set the minimum wage in Lebanon at 675,000 lira per month.

Generator fuel can be bought cheaply on the black market at US dollars, which reduces the monthly cost to around US $ 50 (£ 37), “which is still a lot of money in Lebanon,” Asmar said.

Only workers who earn in US dollars can benefit from this, as the lira to dollar exchange rate is extremely poor and the banks have strictly limited the payment of dollars due to a lack of foreign exchange.

Mariana Fodoulian, a former veterinarian, said I that the streets in their city of Beit Mery, east of Beirut, are pitch black at night with no light.

“I’m scared at night with no electricity, it’s really scary,” she said. “In places outside the city there are no traffic lights on the street, there are always a lot of accidents when driving.”

Hospitals are also struggling with a lack of electricity; many overworked doctors go weekly.

“I know an oncologist, she is a friend of mine, she said that sometimes people die because there is no electricity,” added Mr. Asmar.

Rampant inflation and rising cost of living continue to plague the capital, and fuel shortages have exacerbated the problems.

Workers who earn in lira – which has lost 90 percent of its value in the past two years – are worst off, Asmar said. “You’re really in deep shit. Back then, when they earned 15,000 lira, that was enough, it doesn’t help now because of the high prices. “

People are increasingly relying on black markets after almost all sectors in Lebanon have collapsed.

While the official exchange rate is around 2,000 lira per pound, the actual exchange rate on the black market is closer to 25,000 lira to 1 pound.

Lebanon is struggling with lack of money from the economic collapse, with families still affected by last year’s devastating port explosion that killed at least 214 people and injured more than 6,000.

“We could die on the doors of the hospital, from starvation or even from an expected explosion,” said Asmar.

He joined thousands of people in the 2011 Lebanese protests, inspired by the Arab Spring and calling for political reform, but now feeling “defeated”.

A new government was formed last month after a year of political stalemate and amid an economic crisis that has persisted since 2019. The new billionaire prime minister Najib Mikati has promised to stabilize the country’s economy.

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