Lebanon in the Dark

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A protester holds up a placard reading, “Hello Darkness My Old Friend,” in front of the Lebanese electricity company headquarters, during protests against the Lebanese government and corruption, in Beirut, Lebanon, November 7, 2019.
© 2019 Rafael Yaghobzadeh/Abaca/Sipa via AP Images

Widespread electricity blackouts lasting up to 22 hours per day are crippling Lebanon. The blackouts are caused by fuel shortages. Fuel, like almost everything in the country, is imported. But supplies were badly disrupted after a shipment of faulty fuel had to be returned. The economic crisis has also made it difficult to finance additional fuel shipments. 

Lebanon’s biggest public hospital and main Covid-19 treatment center has had to close some operating rooms and turn off all air-conditioning in offices and corridors to ensure wards and intensive care units can be cooled. Fuel shortages at switchboards caused cuts to mobile phone coverage last week, and the national telecommunications company, Ogero, warned that internet coverage may be disrupted or even cut in some areas. Some streets and homes across the country are pitch black, and local businesses that cannot afford private generators have closed.

Lebanese are no strangers to chronic power cuts that usually last three to six hours per day, and the private generator sector has been filling the gaps in the government’s electricity supply. But generator owners, now struggling to find fuel themselves, have hiked their prices, making them unaffordable for families already suffering from the economic crisis. Other operators have restricted electricity supplies to households, forcing families to choose between operating a fridge or a washing machine. Others turn off their generators for several hours – usually at night – making it difficult to sleep in the sweltering heat.

The blackouts have caused a rapid deterioration in living standards. One woman tweeted that she drove her car for an hour at midnight just to charge her phone so that she can set an alarm to wake up for her job.

The blackouts are not just a nuisance. For many they are a matter of life or death. The parents of a 9-month-old sick baby who gets his medication through an electrical device took him to an electricity company in north Lebanon asking that staff connect the machine there, as they had no power at home.

Electricity access is necessary for many basic human rights, including the right to health, to food, to information, and to an adequate standard of living. Numerous reports have described how Lebanon has failed to reform its dilapidated electricity sector and is now failing to seriously tackle the economic crisis. As a result, basic rights of its residents are being violated on a daily basis.