.
W

hen asked to describe the current political and social crisis facing Lebanon today, most people living in the country will compare their situation to being caged in an open-air prison. People living with a neurological or physical disability face particular challenges in Lebanon’s political and economic crisis. The situation that disabled people endure today was not inevitable nor of their own choosing—there are thousands of stories of struggling Lebanese citizens who deserve more from the Lebanese government and international actors.

Stories such as Yousif al Mawla, the member of a wheelchair basketball team, offer a glimpse of the scenario shared by many Lebanese living in an environment of indifference. Yousif is a member of the Lebanese Welfare Association for the Handicapped, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to filling gaps left by inaction of state institutions. Several times a week, Yousif enjoys going to a local basketball court in central Beirut to practice drills. Although he is handicapped, it does not prevent him succeeding in local tournaments.  

Yousif believes it is vital for him to challenge both his disability and a society that does not fully understand him. He remains optimistic about the future, but the present situation is grim.

The vast majority of disabled Lebanese share Yousif’s experience and continue to live in squalor. Nearly 600,000 Lebanese citizens, estimated at 10-15 percent of Lebanon’s population, are officially recognized as disabled. Individuals from this group, as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees, struggle with sensory, intellectual, or psychological disabilities that make it difficult to work and care for themselves.

Lebanon’s economic problems, due to decades of mismanagement and corruption, have disproportionately impacted its disabled population. Inflation has driven the value of the Lebanese pound to over 10,000 to the USD, resulting in massive unemployment among disabled people. Today, more than 80 percent of Lebanese with a disability are unemployed, including a large portion of Lebanese youth. Therefore, as the rising cost of living increases, so does the daily burden of the disabled community.

To counteract this issue, international donors and NGOs have contributed funds, medical equipment, and educational services. This includes the European Union Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (“MADAD Fund”), a nation-wide project started in 2019 to assist Syrian refugees. Its services began to proliferate assistance to host-nation communities, ranging from 12-day health crisis management training to the provision of first aid sessions.

MADAD’s mission includes a plan to help reduce economic barriers and improve access to health and social services by expanding medical coverage for families who cannot afford it. The project recognizes the magnitude of poverty in Lebanon and its disproportionate effects on Lebanon’s disabled population.

These efforts, as well as assistance that NGOs provide to disabled people, are honorable and necessary. However, they are only a temporary response to a much deeper crisis. Those who receive support from NGO aid programs only cope with living in poverty - they do not escape it. Ultimately, the underlying issue remains unaddressed.

Lebanon possesses laws designed to secure the rights of individuals with disabilities that should make up for the difference. This includes the Law on the Rights of Disabled Persons (Law 220/2000), passed by Lebanese legislators in 2000 and designed to safeguard the welfare of disabled citizens. However, the government has not implemented these laws in practice.

Law 220/2000 entitles individuals with disabilities access to state services including health, education, housing, and employment. However, these services are little more than a fiction. In reality, people with a disability and their families are left to fend for themselves and depend on the generosity of NGO care.

Failure to implement the law personifies how the state is quick to silence criticism for inaction, but nowhere to be found when disabled Lebanese are struggling to survive. Without a government fulfilling its legal and moral responsibility to help, disabled citizens cannot move beyond their present hardship - an inexcusable injustice.

International leaders have expressed a willingness to provide support to Lebanon’s struggling population in recognition of such hardship. In 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron planned to visit Beirut on December 22 for a third time since the August 4 blast that killed over 200 people and injured thousands. Since then, he has expressed disappointment in Lebanon’s political elite for failing to carry out their obligations, including to disabled people.  He has also worked to secure vital aid for Lebanon’s disabled community, as he did when he organized a UN virtual aid conference that raised $300 million in humanitarian aid. Such efforts should be expanded.

Such aid is crucial for Lebanon’s disabled population when managed correctly. Therefore, to ensure that funds reach Lebanon’s disabled community, the total sum should be channeled through the United Nations and NGOs on the ground - not the Lebanese government. Approximately $246 million in aid is already coming from the World Bank to assist poor and vulnerable families and to build-up a social safety net system. These funds are crucial to assisting the disabled community, as well as preventing the disintegration of Lebanese society.

However, humanitarian assistance alone will not address endemic corruption that is the root cause of suffering—international legal standards need to be applied to Lebanon. A petition was created by Lebanese citizens to lobby foreign governments and banking institutions to seize the assets of corrupt officials overseas. There is widespread support for implementing such mechanisms to pressure Lebanese officials to fulfill their duties for the disabled community.

Due to this support, if any Lebanese official can be connected to illegal money, it should be immediately frozen and redirected to servicing disabled Lebanese citizens. The European Union has moved in this direction, proposing a regulation that would authorize it to seize illicit funds in such a manner.

Lebanon is a nation on the brink of collapse, and citizens are suffering as a result. The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described Lebanon’s situation to that of the Titanic, only without the orchestra. In the case of the disabled community, who will provide the lifeboats? The Lebanese people have always managed to survive - now, here is a chance for them to live.

About
Adnan Nasser
:
Adnan Nasser is an analyst focused on the Middle East. He has a BA in International Relations from Florida International University.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Lebanon’s Disabled Community Is Dying

Photo via Unsplash.

April 7, 2021

W

hen asked to describe the current political and social crisis facing Lebanon today, most people living in the country will compare their situation to being caged in an open-air prison. People living with a neurological or physical disability face particular challenges in Lebanon’s political and economic crisis. The situation that disabled people endure today was not inevitable nor of their own choosing—there are thousands of stories of struggling Lebanese citizens who deserve more from the Lebanese government and international actors.

Stories such as Yousif al Mawla, the member of a wheelchair basketball team, offer a glimpse of the scenario shared by many Lebanese living in an environment of indifference. Yousif is a member of the Lebanese Welfare Association for the Handicapped, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to filling gaps left by inaction of state institutions. Several times a week, Yousif enjoys going to a local basketball court in central Beirut to practice drills. Although he is handicapped, it does not prevent him succeeding in local tournaments.  

Yousif believes it is vital for him to challenge both his disability and a society that does not fully understand him. He remains optimistic about the future, but the present situation is grim.

The vast majority of disabled Lebanese share Yousif’s experience and continue to live in squalor. Nearly 600,000 Lebanese citizens, estimated at 10-15 percent of Lebanon’s population, are officially recognized as disabled. Individuals from this group, as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees, struggle with sensory, intellectual, or psychological disabilities that make it difficult to work and care for themselves.

Lebanon’s economic problems, due to decades of mismanagement and corruption, have disproportionately impacted its disabled population. Inflation has driven the value of the Lebanese pound to over 10,000 to the USD, resulting in massive unemployment among disabled people. Today, more than 80 percent of Lebanese with a disability are unemployed, including a large portion of Lebanese youth. Therefore, as the rising cost of living increases, so does the daily burden of the disabled community.

To counteract this issue, international donors and NGOs have contributed funds, medical equipment, and educational services. This includes the European Union Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (“MADAD Fund”), a nation-wide project started in 2019 to assist Syrian refugees. Its services began to proliferate assistance to host-nation communities, ranging from 12-day health crisis management training to the provision of first aid sessions.

MADAD’s mission includes a plan to help reduce economic barriers and improve access to health and social services by expanding medical coverage for families who cannot afford it. The project recognizes the magnitude of poverty in Lebanon and its disproportionate effects on Lebanon’s disabled population.

These efforts, as well as assistance that NGOs provide to disabled people, are honorable and necessary. However, they are only a temporary response to a much deeper crisis. Those who receive support from NGO aid programs only cope with living in poverty - they do not escape it. Ultimately, the underlying issue remains unaddressed.

Lebanon possesses laws designed to secure the rights of individuals with disabilities that should make up for the difference. This includes the Law on the Rights of Disabled Persons (Law 220/2000), passed by Lebanese legislators in 2000 and designed to safeguard the welfare of disabled citizens. However, the government has not implemented these laws in practice.

Law 220/2000 entitles individuals with disabilities access to state services including health, education, housing, and employment. However, these services are little more than a fiction. In reality, people with a disability and their families are left to fend for themselves and depend on the generosity of NGO care.

Failure to implement the law personifies how the state is quick to silence criticism for inaction, but nowhere to be found when disabled Lebanese are struggling to survive. Without a government fulfilling its legal and moral responsibility to help, disabled citizens cannot move beyond their present hardship - an inexcusable injustice.

International leaders have expressed a willingness to provide support to Lebanon’s struggling population in recognition of such hardship. In 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron planned to visit Beirut on December 22 for a third time since the August 4 blast that killed over 200 people and injured thousands. Since then, he has expressed disappointment in Lebanon’s political elite for failing to carry out their obligations, including to disabled people.  He has also worked to secure vital aid for Lebanon’s disabled community, as he did when he organized a UN virtual aid conference that raised $300 million in humanitarian aid. Such efforts should be expanded.

Such aid is crucial for Lebanon’s disabled population when managed correctly. Therefore, to ensure that funds reach Lebanon’s disabled community, the total sum should be channeled through the United Nations and NGOs on the ground - not the Lebanese government. Approximately $246 million in aid is already coming from the World Bank to assist poor and vulnerable families and to build-up a social safety net system. These funds are crucial to assisting the disabled community, as well as preventing the disintegration of Lebanese society.

However, humanitarian assistance alone will not address endemic corruption that is the root cause of suffering—international legal standards need to be applied to Lebanon. A petition was created by Lebanese citizens to lobby foreign governments and banking institutions to seize the assets of corrupt officials overseas. There is widespread support for implementing such mechanisms to pressure Lebanese officials to fulfill their duties for the disabled community.

Due to this support, if any Lebanese official can be connected to illegal money, it should be immediately frozen and redirected to servicing disabled Lebanese citizens. The European Union has moved in this direction, proposing a regulation that would authorize it to seize illicit funds in such a manner.

Lebanon is a nation on the brink of collapse, and citizens are suffering as a result. The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described Lebanon’s situation to that of the Titanic, only without the orchestra. In the case of the disabled community, who will provide the lifeboats? The Lebanese people have always managed to survive - now, here is a chance for them to live.

About
Adnan Nasser
:
Adnan Nasser is an analyst focused on the Middle East. He has a BA in International Relations from Florida International University.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.