In this episode, the Cultural Expansion Cooperative speaks with Zahya Ghaddar, SLP and PhD Candidate based in Beirut, Lebanon.
A little background for this episode: On August 4, 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut in the capital city of Lebanon accidentally exploded, causing at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and $15 billion U.S. dollars in property damage, leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. The blast physically shook the entire country of Lebanon. It was felt in Turkey, Syria, Palestine, and Israel, as well as parts of Europe, and was heard in Cyprus, more than 150 miles away. It was detected by the United States Geological Survey as a seismic event of magnitude 3.3, and is considered one of the most powerful accidental artificial non-nuclear explosions in history.
Additionally, Lebanon is experiencing an economic crisis related to inflation caused by a significant decline in the country’s GDP. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, driving up the cost of almost everything in a country reliant on imports, and demolishing purchasing power. A soldier’s monthly wage, once the equivalent of $900, is now worth about $50. Poverty rates are sky-rocketing in the population of about 6.5 million, with around 80% of people classed as poor. Lebanon’s banks are paralysed. Savers have been frozen out of U.S. dollar accounts. Withdrawals in local currency apply exchange rates that erase up to 80% of the value. Reliant on imported fuel, Lebanon is facing an energy crunch. Even before the crisis, power was in short supply, including in the capital. Now households are lucky to receive more than a few hours a day. Fuel prices have soared. A ride in a shared taxi, a popular form of transport, cost 2,000 pounds before the crisis but now costs about 40,000 pounds. Lebanese have emigrated in the most significant exodus since the civil war. Believing their savings are lost, many have no plans to return. A 2021 Gallup poll found a record 63% of people surveyed wanted to leave permanently, up from 26% before the crisis. Among those leaving are doctors. The World Health Organization has said most hospitals are operating at 50% capacity. It says around 40% of doctors, mostly specialists, and 30% of nurses have permanently emigrated or are working part-time abroad. All of this data is from a Reuters article titled, “Just how bad is Lebanon’s economic meltdown?” published on June 23, 2022.
This not only to provides context for Zahya’s references in her interview, but also reminds us that we are globally connected and as a global profession, we can work to support each other and advocate for our field beyond national borders. We want to recognize the hard work that all Lebanese therapists are contributing to their communities right now, even in the face of fuel, medication, food, and wifi shortages. We all have a lot to learn from you in regards to being resourceful, resilient, and responsive to community needs.
Zahya Ghaddar, SLP and PhD Candidate based in Beirut, Lebanon