I thought at first about writing a piece on how wonderful Lebanon is.
This little country on the Eastern Mediterranean coast numbers around 4 million people. It’s Christian, Muslim and Druze at the same time; it has mosques and night clubs and churches next to each other in Hamra, one of the city’s central districts; it’s got one of the most interesting political systems in the world, the most beautiful beaches in the summer, and ski slopes in the winter, museums, Phoenician relics, luxury hotels matching Cote d’Azur in standards, cheap and good plastic surgery clinics swarming with beautiful Arab ladies fixing their noses, cheaper rents than Europe and much larger houses, girls wearing veils walking next to girls in miniskirts looking at sparkly shop windows, busy traffic, large highways, skyscrapers and traditional French colonial architecture; and an unbelievable capacity of regeneration after so many wars, bombardments and civil strife.
Lebanon is indeed wonderland. Not because it’s your dream country, but by being able to support all this luxury with the lack of resources that we, Europeans, take for granted. What do I mean by this?
Well, electricity just went off for the next 6 hours and the water is also cut for a few hours. The electricity cuts happen every day, on a strict schedule all over the country. In my area: from 6 am to 12 am, from 12 am to 6 pm, 6pm-12pm. In other areas, as in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital, the electricity goes off for even 12 hours a day. In the luckiest areas, in central Beirut, electricity only goes off only for 3 hours a day.
The water usually goes off for two days in the summer, when it never rains. The Lebanese households usually store the water in huge tanks on the roofs, but often they run out and they’re obliged to buy water from entrepreneurs who make a buck out of it.
As a foreigner, these are the first things that bother you when you arrive in Lebanon. As a Lebanese, they bother you even more.
Lebanon has been experiencing acute power rationing since 1994 because of the low production of electricity, the electricity plants falling apart, strikes, high cost of imported fuel oil.
People are dependent on generators. Every household pays a subscription to a man in the neighborhood handling an electricity generator which usually works on petrol. The cost varies between 20 dollars and 50 dollars, depending on the region where the house is located and how much time the “government electricity” goes off. Everybody knows when the “government” is on as all the lights on the streets are on in the middle of the day.
Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East that doesn’t have any oil exploitation and the water is also very scarce in the summer, making hydro-energy impossible. Lebanon is currently importing energy from Syria and Egypt in order to provide the minimum for the population. Experts warn that Lebanon will experience sharp electricity rationing this summer if the number of tourists and visitors reached the same levels of 2009. That is around 2 million people.
What makes me optimistic is that experts warned about the same things last year too. And somehow, through some unknown unbelievable means, Lebanon managed to survive.
Ana-Maria Luca is a Romanian journalist from NOW Lebanon. She blogs at http://inorientulmijlociu.blogspot.com/.