IGP Stories

Navigating the certainty of uncertainty

Eva Lamorgese

21 March 2023. Lebanon's severe economic crisis and political instability is having a devastating impact on people's livelihoods. The crisis has led to critical deficits in the provision of essential public services and to the erosion of public trust. These issues and how we can approach them were the main topics of discussion at Procol Lebanon’s Annual Conference ‘Vital Lebanon: uncertainty, solidarity, activism and energetics’, that took place from 9-11 March 2023 in Beirut.

IGP Director Henrietta Moore speaking at Procol Lebanon’s Annual Conference.
IGP Director Henrietta Moore speaking at Procol Lebanon’s Annual Conference.

A weak and corrupt government has failed to provide the most basic public services, leaving the provision of services like electricity, water and waste collection in the hands of informal and decentralised power systems.

Electricity, for example, is only provided by the state for about 2 hours per day to the average household (Human Rights Watch, 2023), and access to a generator is very much dependent on income and on fuel supply. As a result, the Lebanese are continuously threatened with facing complete darkness.

The collapse of the social contract between the state and the citizens and the ensuing lack of social protection further diminishes the ability of people to realise their most basic human rights, pushing them further into poverty and total distrust.

Locally, we’re seeing the effects of the social implosion: massive migration, the disintegration of public institutions, an increase in the number of suicides are just some examples of the critical social crisis.

On the right, speakers of the ‘Uncertainty’ panel: Khalid Abu Ismail, Nizar El Laz, Jasmin Diab, and Samar Maqusi
Speakers of the ‘Uncertainty’ panel: Khalid Abu Ismail, Nizar El Laz, Jasmin Diab, and Samar Maqusi

So what is the way out? How can we rebuild prosperity from fragmentation, conflict, uncertainty?

The lack of political will to change the status quo means citizens have little faith that things will get better. Yet Lebanese people have consistently shown, even during years of Civil War and in the aftermath of an explosion that killed more than 200 people and left thousands homeless, an extraordinary resilience when it comes to coping with extreme conditions of precarity.

Activism has always played and continues to play an important role as a channel to express dissent in the fight for basic rights and equality like in the October 2019 uprising, and it has been key to bring unto the political scene new emerging forces in opposition to the establishment.

But also, solidarity and the need to connect as human beings is what drives reconciliation and reparation, and there are many such episodes within and across the diverse communities of Lebanon.

“We live at a time of multiple crises and systemic breakdowns, but these breakdowns must not obscure or conceal the positive forces that are at work in the everyday workings of cities and communities – the ways people deal with uncertainty, the solidarities they create with one another, the activism they engage in, and the energy and work they put into the creation of solutions” said our Director Henrietta Moore during her opening speech.

The work led by our colleagues at PROCOL Lebanon with citizen scientists and local communities is part of our response of looking into coping livelihoods to help alleviate some of the pressures people are facing. The work was well showcased in the immersive exhibition ‘Capacities of people; capacities of cities’ that the team opened on the last day of the conference.

Visitors at the exhibition ‘Capacities of people; capacities of cities’.
Visitors at the exhibition ‘Capacities of people; capacities of cities’.

On the political scene, Member of Parliament Ibrahim Mneimneh shared his belief that it is through the uncertainty that we can reverse the current situation, create novel opportunities and rebuild the system “through the cracks”, as the cost of the certain realities in Lebanon, that are neither logical nor true, has been a factor in the country’s collapse.

The establishment parties are losing some of their support base. We need to come out of our comfort zone, embrace the opportunities that lay in front of us as uncertainty unfolds. We need to start finding all the cracks in the wall and expand them.” he said in his keynote speech.

For the full programme and speakers please visit the Conference webpage.

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