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Lebanon’s gripping crisis

A persistent economic downturn has sparked bank heists


A closed bank branch in Beirut, Lebanon Associated Press/Photo by Bilal Hussein

Lebanon’s gripping crisis

When a 5-year-old in Beirut needed urgent brain surgery, Tamar Majoulian with Horizons International said the ministry received a call.

It was one of a growing number of requests for medical aid as the country’s economic crisis worsened. Majoulian said hospitals no longer accept insurance and request cash down payments before operations. Horizons International jumped in by providing bill payments and sourcing medications no longer available in the country.

“He survived,” Majoulian recalled. “The mother was so thankful.”

Lebanon is still battling a financial crisis that began three years ago. A major explosion at the Beirut port in 2020 worsened an already difficult situation. The currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value, aggravating inflation and unemployment. Churches and aid groups are trying to meet the gaping needs for basic amenities.

The country received renewed attention last week when 28-year-old Sali Hafiz used a toy gun to demand her money from a Beirut bank. She made off with $13,000 of her own money and remains at large. Hafiz said she needed the money to help with her sister’s cancer treatment. Banks have limited their customers’ access to deposits to cope with the crisis. Her action drew praise on social media and inspired a string of similar acts: Lebanon reported five such heists in a single day last week.

Majoulian said for many Lebanese, it marked a reaction borne out of a long-simmering frustration. “We always say, anytime, anything can explode in this country, but we don’t know how God is still holding things in place,” she said.

James Ward, executive director of Heart for Lebanon, said his group has also seen more middle-income families fall below the poverty line. The growing needs prompted the group to extend food aid beyond Lebanon’s refugee population. Ward said 50 percent of the ministry’s work now caters to Lebanese families.

His team has continued to feed 4,000 families despite a 25 percent increase in food prices this year alone. Horizons International has also doubled its food ministry across its 106 church partners and three centers nationwide.

Majoulian acknowledged the lack of electricity and constantly changing prices of goods, among other struggles. Yet she said such struggles have also provided growth opportunities. More than two dozen churches have now started ministries to Muslim communities: “We do believe God has increased our faith in a way that we’re able to take strength, not by what we own or what we have.”

World Radar

IRAN: Protesters in northern Iran cheered as fire engulfed the governor’s office. Other demonstrators across the country set fire to Islamic head coverings and chanted, “Death to the dictator.” Tensions flared since last Friday after the death of a woman detained by the morality police for breaking laws about hijabs, or head coverings. Police arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini from Iran’s Kurdistan province last week. She fell into a coma after collapsing at the detention center and died days later. Police claimed she suffered “sudden heart failure,” but her family insists she was healthy. The protests have now spread to 15 cities, marking the largest outcry since protests over fuel price hikes in 2019. Amnesty International reported at least nine people dead, while Iranian state television said as many as 26 people have died.

MYANMAR: Military helicopters bombarded a village school in the Sagaing region of north-central Myanmar, also known as Burma,  for nearly an hour last Friday. Junta troops on the ground then opened fire. A school official and an aid worker this week confirmed at least 13 people died, including seven children. It marks the single deadliest targeting of children since the coup last February. Fighting between the military and anti-coup militias has displaced more than half a million people in Sagaing. One parent told Radio Free Asia that the surviving children now wake up startled and sobbing: “They all are having nightmares.”

JAPAN: The nation now has 90,526 centenarians—a record high for the country, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced last Friday. The number of people at age 100 and above rose by 4,016 since 2021. Women make up nearly 89 percent of the total. Japan has 72.13 centenarians per 100,000 people, the ministry said. It attributed the rising numbers to improved medical and elderly care. The oldest woman, 115, resides in Osaka prefecture, while the oldest man, who is 111, lives in Hiroshima prefecture.

CAMEROON: Dozens of gunmen raided St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the village of Nchang last Friday. They set fire to the building and abducted five priests, one nun, and two church members. Aloysius Fondong Abangalo, bishop of Mamfe Diocese, where Nchang is located, said some of the attackers were former St. Mary’s members. Authorities blamed separatists for the attack. Cameroon has been in a civil war known as the Anglophone Crisis between the majority-Francophone (French-speaking) government and Anglophone (English-speaking) separatists since late 2016.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: The central African nation has abolished the death penalty, state television announced Monday, citing a new penal code signed by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The country’s last official execution took place in 2014, although international rights groups have accused the regime of forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and torture. While capital punishment remains legal in more than 30 African countries, about half of them have not carried out executions in recent years.

WORLD Asia correspondent Joyce Wu contributed to this report.


Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.

@onize_ohiks

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