Lebanon in 2023: A demographic bomb on verge of exploding

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2022-12-29 | 00:33
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Lebanon in 2023: A demographic bomb on verge of exploding
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11min
Lebanon in 2023: A demographic bomb on verge of exploding
The study "Survey of the Labor Force and Household Living Conditions in Lebanon," published in 2018, raised alarm bells by revealing startling statistics about Lebanon's demographic makeup and its disastrous changes.
 
The International Labor Organization and the European Union worked together with Lebanon's Central Administration for Statistics to conduct the study.
 
 
In Lebanon, there is a terrifying shift in its population structure that threatens to explode from within, more profound than the political changes and beyond the economic and financial crisis—especially since there is no immediate solution.
 
The demographic problem in Lebanon cannot be solved by political agreements between rival parties, international conferences, or conditions set by international financial institutions, as the numbers now portend an uncertain future.
 
We would have preferred that 2022 ended on a hopeful note. Still, the continued total disregard for the demographic problem does not portend a better future.
 
Hunger, emigration, and poverty

Dr. Ali Faour, a population affairs researcher with a state doctorate in geographical sciences and a former dean of the Lebanese University's Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality Management, explains the risks of these changes to "Nidaa Al-Watan."
 
According to Dr. Faour, Lebanon has experienced unheard-of economic, social, and demographic changes since 2019. 
 
By the end of 2022, the situation had reached a comprehensive economic and financial collapse, followed by the failure to approve a plan for an economic and financial recovery. 
 
The World Bank report claims that despite being listed as one of the three worst crises in the world, the exhausted nation has reached a point in its crisis where its composition is entirely unmatched anywhere else in the world.
 
Unmistakable signs that Lebanon is heading toward a more complex situation include the collapse of the state's executive, judicial, and public administration institutions, as well as educational and health institutions, along with security chaos that started to emerge in Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, Tyre, and the surrounding areas, especially with the dangerous rise in poverty.
 
Dr. Ali Faour confirms that the ESCWA study on Lebanon's multidimensional poverty rate, which is 82%, was restricted to the areas where Lebanese people live and excluded camps and slums.
 
If these locations are taken into account, the poverty rate in 2022 will have surpassed 90%, putting three million and two hundred thousand Lebanese on the verge of poverty out of a total population of 3,860,000. 
 
This led UNICEF to designate Lebanon as one of the 20 hotbeds of hunger. In the same manner as the nations of the Horn of Africa, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

Population map

These alarming poverty rates set the stage for Lebanon's most challenging and pervasive issue—the demographic shift that is changing the country's population composition.
 
After a slight decline in 2020 due to the pandemic, Lebanon saw a new wave of immigration started in 2019. The following year, the number of immigrants significantly increased, reaching 150,000 in 2022.
 
A calculation of the last three years reveals that 10% of Lebanese have emigrated, bringing the number of people still living in Lebanon to 3,500,000, along with an increase in the number of non-Lebanese and people living on Lebanese territory illegally, as well as unnatural people.
 
Aging of Christians 
 
The statistics reveal some unsettling data, such as the slowing rate of population growth in Lebanon and the fact that the country's population growth is solely attributable to the 1994 naturalization decree, which saw a doubling of the number of people who obtained Lebanese nationality from 210,000 to about 450,000.
 
The population map of Lebanon, which demonstrates that the increase is concentrated in Akkar, Donieh, and Tripoli—i.e., where the most significant number of naturalized people are —confirms this.
 
It is evident that other areas of Lebanon, particularly Beirut I and Mount Lebanon, do not experience any population growth in contrast to this growth. According to studies, Christian parts like Metn, Jbeil, and Keserwan entered the aging stage. Most of them turned into retirement communities for the elderly, particularly in the mountainous regions, as Dr. Faour noted.
 
While the rate should be 4.1 to ensure continuity and growth, the number of children in one family has fallen below the necessary rate, also known as the replacement or fertility level. It reached 3.3 in some places, like Jezzine, and 3.4 in Rashaya, Keserwan, and Beirut.
 
According to a study done by Lebanon's Central Administration for Statistics between 2018 and 2019, these numbers are comparable to those in some European nations, while the ratios in Akkar, Sidon, and Baalbek are 4.8, 4, and 4.2, respectively.
 
These discrepant figures accurately depict Lebanon's situation and the propensity for some of its regions to age. As for the slight population growth, it is largely restricted to the Muslim populations in Akkar, northern Lebanon, and a few Bekaa and southern regions. 
 
This slight growth is insignificant compared to the waves of youth migration abroad that affect all sects, or more specifically, the economic displacement of young people. According to international classifications, thirty-four of the 234 nations in the world are experiencing population declines, with Lebanon occupying advanced ranks with a decrease in population of around 0.88%.

The number of Lebanese is declining
 
All of the previously mentioned information, including emigration and the lack of population growth, point to one reality: a decline in the number of Lebanese. 
 
The demographic situation in Lebanon is susceptible to further changes with the worsening of the living crisis in 2022, particularly in the family in terms of a decline in births, as the average number of Lebanese families shrank from 4.6 to 3.6 people as a result of the general decline in fertility.
 
There was a 20.5% decrease in the number of young people in 2018. This unfortunate fact, with all of its statistics, is now getting worse as young people put off getting married because of the severe financial struggles and as the divorce rate rises to one out of every five marriages as a result of the living crisis on couples and families.
 
The elderly now make up about 531,000 people in Lebanon, or an average of 62.5% of the population, whereas they were previously only 12% of the population, that is, about half a century ago. 
 
The decline in births was accompanied by an increase in the percentage of the elderly, which reached 80%.
 
In the governorates of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, the increase percentage of the elderly was 90% and 116%, respectively.
 
Let's put all these numbers together. In that case, we can write down the following details: Due to the declining number of Lebanese, the aging of the population of Lebanon in comparison to the rising number of non-Lebanese, particularly from the category of youth and children, and the increasing number of births among refugees, we are confronted with a demographic time bomb that could detonate at any time, especially with discussions about the settlement of refugees occurring occasionally. 
 
The United Nations estimated the number of residents in Lebanon currently at 6,850,000 people, while Dr. Faour puts the number at eight million, which is the highest number of refugees in the world, given the size of the country and the number of its population. The UNHCR relied on the number of registered refugees, noting that the number of unregistered refugees cannot be predicted.
 
"We were shocked when the number two million appeared on the screen as a fixed number for refugees, and we placed a large question mark under it to indicate the vague question about the number of unregistered people living in most areas and villages of Lebanon," according to a data expert who works in a non-governmental organization concerned with providing aid to refugees.
 
All residents without legal documents, such as undocumented immigrants, unregistered individuals, minors, and other illegal residents, are added to this list. This leads to the frightening conclusion that only between 45 and 50 percent of people living on Lebanese soil are natives of Lebanon, which turned Lebanon into a large camp and caused a significant rift in its population structure.
 
In a study he carried out in 2022, Dr. Ali Faour asked: "Can you imagine what will happen in ten years?"
 
A vast human reservoir of several million displaced people, refugees, and undocumented immigrants of various nationalities now exists in Lebanon.
 
After more than ten years since the start of the Syrian crisis, the situation in Lebanon has gotten to the point of being catastrophic. While all estimates indicate that the Syrian reconstruction plan will also take a long time, at least ten years, the UN confirms that rebuilding Syria may take half a century.
 
Here, the obvious question arises: What will happen to Lebanon if the country's population declines, refugees continue to live there, and young people continue to leave the country? What will occur if population crises worsen? There is no doubt that this will cause Lebanon to fall into chaos, not to mention the highly complicated economic and security ramifications that will follow, which will impact Europe and the rest of the world.
 
Can these figures jolt Lebanon's government officials into understanding the scope of the catastrophe? Or will quotas divert their attention from the fact that they cannot pass on their wealth to future generations after helping cut off Lebanese people's descendants?
 
 
 

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