Beirut, Lebanon – Hadi Chalhoub, 23, emigrated from Lebanon to Atlanta, Georgia, just days after the Explosion of the port of Beirut last august.
Almost a year later, the interior designer returned to this crisis-ridden country to see his family and friends, his suitcase filled to the brim with pain relievers, diabetes medication, eye drops. and other pills and tablets.
“I had to put the drugs in little bottles to make them all fit,” Chalhoub told Al Jazeera. “It was a huge bag of drugs.”
In less than two years, the Lebanese economy has been on the verge of collapse. The devaluation of the Lebanese pound – which has lost 90% of its value against the dollar since late 2019 – and the lack of foreign exchange have made it difficult for Lebanese importers to pay foreign suppliers, resulting in severe shortages of drugs and others. goods.
Horrified by the news of the country’s growing economic crisis, compounded by fuel shortages and long daily blackouts, Lebanese expatriates visiting their homes filled their suitcases with life-saving medicines, hygiene products, infant formula. , diapers and even food banks for their families.
Many also carry US dollars, a scarce but very valuable commodity in cash-strapped Lebanon, where half the population now lives in poverty.
In addition, Lebanon has been without a full government for over 11 months.
The World Bank says the Lebanese economic crisis is among the three most severe the world has never seen since the middle of the 19th century.
Brussels doctor Philippe Aftimos, 39, is trying to get “a year” of medication for his parents and younger sister before a home visit to Lebanon. His suitcase is filled with an assortment of drugs, especially for cholesterol, hypertension, depression.
“I don’t want to live in the anguish of uncertainty [over my family’s health],The doctor told Al Jazeera.
“It’s been two years since my last visit… I’m obviously very worried about the situation.
Aftimos is monitoring the worsening developments from afar. “I am heartbroken every morning,” he said.
Meanwhile, in addition to a few bags of medicine for her family, 35-year-old programmer Mireille Raad is also bringing home extra pain relievers and multivitamin tablets to give to families in need when she visits her family soon. .
She anxiously follows the news from Washington, DC, and hears poignant stories from friends and family on WhatsApp.
“I am always worried that customs at the airport will stop me because of the amount of medicine I am carrying,” Raad told Al Jazeera.
Lebanon highly dependent on remittances millions of its expatriates around the world to keep its economy afloat – among the highest in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2018, these expatriate remittances accounted for nearly 13% of the country’s total gross domestic product. Now authorities are hoping expats and tourists could provide a lifeline by spending money on the country’s economy in crisis.
Political leaders have explicitly called on expats to visit and spend money in Lebanon.
President Michel Aoun declared at the end of June that the Lebanese diaspora has a “role in revitalizing the economy”.
Acting Prime Minister Hasan Diab also expressed hope lebanese tourists and expats will come back to the cash-strapped country to stimulate its struggling market with hard currencies.
But some argue that this is just a ploy to gain more time, as Lebanon has remained without a full government since last August, without any economic stimulus plan in place.
Negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to implement a rescue plan fell in the water in July 2020, and the international community continues to suspend development aid unless Lebanon implements economic and structural reforms.
University College Dublin postdoctoral researcher Mohamad Faour believes the authorities are using remittances as “just another injection of morphine” into the growing Lebanese economic system.
“[Prioritising remittances] means refocusing on those short-term remedies at the expense of a credible financial plan and solution, ”Faour told Al Jazeera.
“It’s a lease of life on a system that should go bankrupt.”
Anger and resentment
Many members of the Lebanese diaspora around the world have not been at home since the end of 2019, when anti-government protests rocked the country.
At that time, there was a brief period of hope and optimism that the Lebanese could overthrow their ruling political parties, which they say corrupt and mismanaged public funds and resources at the expense of the people.
Ramsey Nasser, a 34-year-old software developer in Brooklyn, New York, says his only source of optimism now is the recent anti-establishment gains in the engineering union and college student elections.
But as Nasser packs cash and food banks for family, friends and charities, he admits to feeling “helpless” watching things unfold from afar.
“It’s like watching a loved one slowly die of an incurable disease,” he said. “I am sorry that the country continues to bleed people and spirits by making their lives intolerable.”
As the economy continues to deteriorate, many young professionals are choose to leave the country in what has been described as a “brain drain”.
The poorest families chose to take a perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Cyprus, hoping for the opportunity to settle in Europe.
If the Lebanese security services don’t intercept these crowded rafts – or if they haven’t sunk on the way – the Cypriot authorities are forcibly returning them.
Chalhoub feels lucky to have been able to find an opportunity in the United States. He hopes his friends and family still in Lebanon can join him.
“I don’t see why or even how they could stay here. There is no reason, ”he said angrily.
“Even the essentials – gas, water, electricity – are not available. I just don’t understand!