With virtually no national welfare system, Lebanon’s elderly are left to fend for themselves amid their country’s worsening economic catastrophe.
In their prime, they survived 15 years of civil war that started in 1975 and bouts of instability. Now in their later years, many have been thrown into poverty by one of the world’s worst financial crises in the past 150 years.
Lebanon has the greatest number of elderly in the Middle East – 10 percent of the population of six million is over 65. About 80 percent of Lebanese 65 or older have no retirement benefits or healthcare coverage, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.
Family members and charities, traditionally the prime source of support, are struggling with increasing needs as unemployment rises.
Any dollar savings the elderly had from a lifetime of work are locked up in banks, inaccessible in the banking crisis. Savings lost nearly 90 percent of value as the local currency collapsed against the dollar. Imported medicine and basic goods are in jeopardy, and a once-reliable healthcare system is crumbling.
Over the past two years, more elderly have taken to the streets, searching through rubbish or begging, said Joe Taoutel, who runs Rafiq el-Darb, or Friends until the End.
Taoutel delivers home meals to more than 60 elderly families, up from five before the crisis.
“Those who used to give are now in need,” said Taoutel.
The government is struggling to provide for a population where now 55 percent live under the poverty line since the crisis began in late 2019.
As the economy falters, more young Lebanese are migrating, leaving behind ageing parents.