A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Lebanon’s submerged third

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 10, 2008

My father tells great stories about his college days in Boston, including one about a business department professor who used to refer (with lisp) to “the thubmerged third”. I always assumed it was an idiosyncratic expression, but since I wanted to use it for today’s post title, I thought I should google it first.

It turns out that “the submerged third” was an expression used during the Depression to describe the estimated third of the population who were hit hard by the collapse of America’s rural economy. And now that I know its history, I think it is all the more appropriate to headline what I found the most sobering in this AFP article about inflation in Lebanon:

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), nearly one million Lebanese, or 28.5 percent of the population, live on four dollars (2.55 euros) a day and with nearly eight percent having to survive on 2.40 dollars a day.

“This implies that almost 300,000 individuals in Lebanon are unable to meet their food and non-food basic needs,” the UNDP said in a February report.

“The bottom 20 percent of the population accounts for only seven percent of all consumption in Lebanon while the richest 20 percent accounts for 43 percent,” it added.

Lebanon’s inflation rate reached 9.3 percent in 2007, up sharply from 5.6 percent a year earlier, according the Central Administration for Statistics.

The 2007 rise included a 14.8 percent jump in food prices, and a 20.9 percent hike for utilities.

Salaries, however, have not kept up with inflation, with the minimum monthly wage standing at 300,000 pounds, or 200 dollars.

Yikes. I knew that the average monthly wage in Lebanon is around $150, which sounds appallingly low, but I had never costed it out in terms of daily spending. $4 a day: a one-kilo bag of bread costs $.67, a liter of fresh milk costs $1.50, a bus ride costs $.33 and a shared taxi/service costs $1, and … I can’t even begin to imagine where fruits and vegetables fit into this daily budget, not to mention meat. Or rent. Or electricity. Or costs for those little luxuries like toothpaste and soap.

7 Responses to “Lebanon’s submerged third”

  1. S. Worthen said

    Salaries, however, have not kept up with inflation, with the minimum monthly wage standing at 300,000 pounds, or 200 dollars.

    This isn’t right – 300,000 pounds is more like 600,000 dollars. (I only wish I had that much per month! Per year even!) 200 dollars is more like 150,000 pounds – assuming they’re of the UK variety.

  2. S. Worthen said

    Now I’m doing it! Let me correct myself: 200 dollars is more like 100 pounds.

  3. Oops, sorry – I should have clarified. These are _Lebanese_ pounds. The Lebanese currency (the pound or lira – it goes by both, for obvious etymological reasons!) is pegged at 1519 to the dollar (official exchange rate – the accepted value for ordinary transactions is 1500 to the dollar). So LL300,000 is $200.

  4. intlxpatr said

    That’s just sickening. I imagine a cab ride, even a shared cab ride, is a luxury that is out of the question. I imagine health care is put off. I imagine dental care is almost out of the question. I imagine a mother trying to find school fees, school supplies. Those people must be barely scraping along.

  5. intlxpatr said

    That’s just sickening. I imagine a cab ride, even a shared cab ride, is a luxury that is out of the question. I imagine health care is put off. I imagine dental care is almost out of the question. I imagine a mother trying to find school fees, school supplies. Those people must be barely scraping along.

  6. kheireddine said

    That is why when we look at Beirut from Google Earth, there is so many slums. Most of the people living in Ouzaï, Hay El-Sellom, Bourj El Barajneh etc don’t pay rent & electricity and benefit from Hezbollah medical & welfare network.

  7. nicolien said

    Most of the people who live anywhere in Beirut do not pay (a lot of) rent, due to laws that fixed the rent at some point in time. People who have been living in the same apartment since that time pay extremely low rents (as low as LL 1000 per month – less than a dollar!). A three-bedroom apartment in Sanayeh, for example, costs my friend’s parents only LL 500.000 per year(!) (less than $400). Makes living on a low wage a lot easier than with those $350 per month per room I am paying in Hamra…

    Which is not to say, of course, that the current minimum wage isn’t ridiculous, especially with the way prices are going up these days.

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