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Atlas of Lebanon

Part 3 - An Unbalanced Econoy: the Growth of Inequality

The Worrisome Growth of Inequality and Poverty

Bruno Dewailly

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1Highly impoverished and weakened by the Civil War, the Lebanese population could have hoped for improvement after the conflict ended. However, 25 years later, this long-awaited improvement is still to come for a majority of residents. Overall, social inequality has increased and poverty has spread, especially in the peripheral regions. Groups with a medium standard of living have seen their demographic and economic importance decline.

Growing wealth inequality, overall impoverishment and increasing indebtedness

2On a regional scale, no society is more marked by inequality than Lebanon. With a Gini Index score of 0.848 in 2014, the country has been ranked among the ten most unequal countries in the world in terms of wealth distribution (wealth being defined in a study published by the Credit Suisse Group as the trade value of assets, financial ones and other, minus debt, excluding figures related to Syrian refugees).

3Between 2010 and 2015, Lebanon’s total wealth distinctly decreased, as did the average wealth per adult, dropping from 35,529 US$ in 2010 to 30,207 US$ in 2015. This downward trend is largely due to the rise of private debt. Since the beginning of the 2000s, the average debt per adult has almost tripled and has highly increased since the 2008 financial crisis (12,697 US$ in 2015). It has to be noted that, according to the Bank of Lebanon, these estimates do not include 450 undeclared credit institutions. Meanwhile, the value of the median wealth per adult has been decreasing since 2007. In 2015, the latter amounted to 5,340 US$, the equivalent of what it was 20 years earlier. This evolution reveals a growing wealth concentration among the most affluent groups (20% of the population consume 45% of the goods) and a spread of poverty.

4As of now, two thirds of the adult population own less than 10,000 US$ worth of property and 30.2% between 10,000 US$ and 100,000 US$ (to respectively 60.5% and 38% in Jordan). The continuous decline of the size of the groups earning medium incomes could lead to social conflicts and departures.

5In 2008, poverty (less than 4 US$/day/person) affected 28.6% of the total Lebanese population (1.07 million inhabitants) and extreme poverty (less than 2.4 US$/day/person) 8% (300,000 inhabitants). Over the years, the spatial distribution of household income and unsatisfied basic needs have been marked by major disparities, at the expense of the peripheral regions. The residents of the cazas that were under Israeli occupation until 2000 have mostly been affected by a lack of infrastructure, facilities and services. On the contrary, the residents of the northern regions (Akkar, Miniyeh-Danniyeh, Hermel) have chiefly been confronted to monetary poverty, combined with a significant number of unsatisfied basic needs. The residents of the urban areas of Tripoli and Saida have also been experiencing such issues. The highest average standard of living and best level of access to basic services can be found in the center of the country (Beirut, Mount Lebanon and Zahleh).

6Since 2008, no study has been conducted to provide an updated analysis of poverty on a national scale. Some indicators seem to hint at its evolution, at least between 2009 and 2014: decrease in total wealth, consumer price inflation equal to 23% (IMF, 2015), unemployment rate increasing from 6.4% to 21% (334,000 individuals) and to 34% among people aged 25 or less, etc.

Figure III-22: Evolution of wealth in Lebanon between 2000 and 2015

Figure III-22: Evolution of wealth in Lebanon between 2000 and 2015

Figure III-23: Poverty in Lebanon in 2008 (not including refugees)

Figure III-23: Poverty in Lebanon in 2008 (not including refugees)

Tripoli: heightened inequality and increasing poverty

7Due to its marginalization, the loss of its connections with the Syrian hinterland, and the concentration of assets in real estate, the continuous decline of Tripoli’s economy has led to the growth of poverty and has been devastating for a whole section of the population. Only 8% of its inhabitants were not reported as being disadvantaged in 2011. The last available studies show the spread of poverty; many neighborhoods have experienced an increase in the number of poor residents (Kobbe and Tell-Zahriyeh, respectively 18% and 8% of the disadvantaged households). Above all, situations of extreme poverty have become more and more common in recent years. In 2014, 32% of the population were considered extremely disadvantaged. When compared with others, the residents of Tripoli have not so much been affected by an acute lack of access to basic services (health care, education, housing) as by the need for monetary resources. Given that the local elites seem incapable of implementing a comprehensive and sustainable development strategy, which would serve every segment of the population, this situation could last, or even get worse.

Figure III-24a: Characteristics of poverty in Tripoli 2011-2014

Figure III-24a: Characteristics of poverty in Tripoli 2011-2014

Figure III-24b: Characteristics of poverty in Tripoli 2011-2014

Figure III-24b: Characteristics of poverty in Tripoli 2011-2014

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