Written by Josiane Saade
Translated by Rasha Zantout
Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which has been organized since 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly with the purpose of bringing awareness to the importance of eliminating poverty and need in all countries, especially in developing countries.
Scenes from Lebanon are a must, especially with the increase in number of displaced from neighbouring countries, such as Syria and Iraq, due to war.
These sightings we place in the hands of officials, with the hope that they awaken their consciences and hearts to help those out of their tragedies.
Regular people, like us, except they have no shelter. They sleep on the sidewalks and under bridges; they make dumpsters their homes where they seek refuge from the heat and the cold. They scavenge for food in the trash. You see them there, old and young, they do not care who is around them. They are powerless. Yes, these scenes make your skin crawl. You feel pity and anger all at once; pity for people betrayed by time, and anger at a society whose officials do not care for anything but power.
Is it possible in our day and age to see elderly people, some with physical disabilities, sleeping on torn mattresses under bridges among the trash? Yes, these bridges which officials pride themselves for building and the media praise their benefits in decreasing traffic without once mentioning those who sleep underneath them.
How is it that in the twenty first century, in the age of computers and the internet, in the era of globalization we continue to find children begging for pennies to lull their hunger? And we in Lebanon, the country of hospitality, in a country of wonders and the capital Beirut, the hub of forums and seminars against poverty, how is it that we look into the distance but we do not see what is staring us in the face?
Where are the officials?
What happened to the role of the state in caring for its citizens and aiding the destitute who are left to disease with no one to ask after them? You see their open wounds, unattended for; they bleed and cannot find a doctor. We ask: Where is the Ministry of Social Affairs? Why isn’t there a general survey of the number of impoverished people who are quickly becoming homeless beggars and pickpockets? Why aren’t there any committees roaming the streets and alleys in all cities? Although some civil society organizations carry out activities to aid them, and some TV programs shed the light on them and some charitable people offer to help them, it is not enough for it is all provisional. And lucky is he who gets the chance to benefit from these programs.
Where do we stand from the charter of human rights? Why aren’t we applying it in Lebanon or even in the entire world? Why isn’t there an emergency commission dedicated to the victims of war? War is one of the main causes of poverty as we have witnessed in Lebanon where so many families broke apart and brothers turned against each other. Hasn’t that led to a decline in living conditions and an increase in unemployment?
Many seminars were held in a bid to mend this phenomenon. However, all resulting recommendations remained ink on paper. These seminars succeeded in solving a fraction of this grand problem.
Certain statistics claim that the poverty line in Lebanon has not dropped beyond state standards. But, when you see reality with your own eyes, you notice that half of the population of Lebanon is destitute. If only officials awaken to this phenomenon and try to find the appropriate solutions to diminish the severity of poverty. Some shy attempts by concerned ministries were made to solve the problem. Often times these attempts are with the participation of the United Nations Development Programme and the International Fund concerned with human rights. But it is all to no avail.
Refugees have added to poverty
The problem of poverty was aggravated with the influx of refugees from neighbouring countries who cast their shadow on the aching economy in Lebanon. And instead of aiding the needy strata of Lebanese, we are now asking help for the displaced. Unemployment among the youth has amplified recently. Many of those have resorted to drugs to forget their situation and get back at life and society.
Poverty and homelessness are present everywhere. Barefoot Lebanese and foreign children gather on highways half clothed and dirty. The traffic light turns red signalling them to pounce on cars perchance drivers take pity on them and give them some money. The traffic light turns green, then red and the cycle continues. As the sun sets, the children gather in a specific point and a vehicle picks them up, taking them into the unknown. You ask them how they are doing, you ask them why are they not at school like their peers, but they are afraid to answer. They look around in fear that someone might spot them. They say they are forced to beg because this person or that would beat them if they do not bring back money.
On a certain street in a little neighbourhood, poor people live. No one visits them there. At the entrance, children play barefoot with something that resembles a ball. Their clothes filthy, the buildings made of tin rooms with unknown inhabitants.
How can the phenomenon of poverty recede in Lebanon when politicians cannot agree over a single reform article? They convene and agree to send aid to destitute countries, while our country suffers and receives more refugees without any organization. And thus, the poor get poorer.
On this global day, we hope that organizations work to limit poverty because the needy are many. We call upon God that we do not fall into their ranks one day.