Lebanon could sink like the Titanic, warns parliament speaker

Nabih Berri calls for urgent action to form a government, as Parliament approves crisis funding to avert power blackout.

Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis that poses the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war [File: Hussein Malla/AP]

Lebanon’s influential parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri says the country will sink like the Titanic if it is not able to form a government as he opened a session to approve emergency funds to literally keep the lights on for two more months.

“The whole country is in danger, the whole country is the Titanic,” Berri said on Monday. “It’s time we all woke up because in the end, if the ship sinks, there’ll be no one left.”

Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis that poses the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war. Without a new government, it cannot implement the reforms required to unlock desperately needed foreign aid.

But prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and President Michel Aoun have been at loggerheads for months over the makeup of a new cabinet.

On Monday, Parliament approved a loan of $200m to pay for fuel for Lebanon’s electricity company after a warning by the energy ministry that cash had run out for electricity generation beyond the end of the month.

“This should be enough for electricity for around two months or two-and-a-half,” Cesar Abi Khalil, a member of parliament and former energy minister, told Reuters.

The Zahrani power plant, one of Lebanon’s four main electricity producers, has already had to shut down for lack of fuel, affecting the country’s already lacking power generation capacity and forcing homes and businesses to use private generators to cope with daily brownouts.

“Any shutdown in one of these big plants affects power generation,” Abi Khalil said. “This means Lebanese make up for it with generators that run on diesel that’s 30 percent more expensive than the fuel that’s bought by the electricity company.”

Deepening crisis

Lebanon’s financial crisis, which erupted in 2019, has driven nearly half of the population of six million into poverty, wiped out jobs and savings and slashed consumer purchasing power.

Over the past month, protests swept across Lebanese towns and cities as the value of the Lebanese pound continues to spiral.

The currency’s value dropped to 10,000 against the dollar in early March. Less than a week later, it hit an astonishing record low at 15,000, effectively losing about 90 percent of its value since late 2019.

It was the last straw for many who have seen prices of consumer goods nearly triple since the crisis erupted.

The country has been rudderless since August last year when caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet resigned on the back of the Beirut port explosion that devastated swaths of the capital.

Hariri, who was nominated in October, has failed to form a new cabinet due to the political deadlock with Aoun.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies