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Lebanon was designed by God with miles of sandy beaches, snow-capped mountains, fertile valleys and the most beautiful people in the world. But the Lord giveth and the lord taketh away.

For all its stunning attributes, it may well have the worst neighbours since Poland between the world wars. One Lebanese told me that the only good neighbour they have is the sea. When Syria and Israel aren’t occupying Lebanon, they are sending refugees in great numbers with almost no chance of return. Palestinians have been in Lebanon since 1948 - Syrians since 2011.

As a member of the Development Committee in the European Parliament, I was privileged to join a delegation on a visit to Lebanon last week. Lebanon is experiencing its worst crisis since, well, since the last crisis. We were able to see what some might call a ‘perfect storm’ or a poly-crisis.

They are hosting a refugee population of 1.5 million even though their population is the same as the Republic of Ireland.

Lebanon has been hospitable for a decade but this generosity is coming at a price. I have no idea what the long-term solution is. Assad doesn’t want them back even if they wanted to go back. Europe doesn’t want them. And Lebanon can’t keep them. It’s the same in Turkey and Jordan.

Covid 19 has impacted like all other places but the other major trauma was the explosion at Beirut Port in 2020, where 2,500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated the third worst non-nuclear explosion in human history. More than 200 died including the wife of the Dutch ambassador.

All of this is bad enough but now the Lebanese economy is in freefall. GDP has fallen from $55b to $22b in just two years. The currency has almost collapsed - a US dollar used to cost 150 Lebanese Pounds (LBP). Now it will set you back about 1,500 LBP. In reality it is around 20,000 LBP.

Unemployment and inflation also make life tough beyond anything that has been experienced before. There are constant power-cuts including, appropriately, during our meeting with Lebanese MPs.

Lebanon’s political situation is like Northern Ireland except instead of two hostile religions, there are 17. On the upside, at least they all identify as Lebanese unlike in Northern Ireland.

Lebanon’s economic situation is like Ireland in 2010, with the IMF now circling with reform plans that most think will never happen.

Sadly, and despite the best intentions, the international response is at best confused and at worst damaging. I counted five different plans being driven by a range international agencies including WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR and the EU. Coordination is patchy.

There are elections in May and the general view is that it is better to get them out of the way because no reform will happen before that. One MP hopefully pointed out that there is a one year window after each election when real change is possible.

The last election was in 2018 and by 2019, there were 1 million protesters on the streets - a quarter of the population. So much for a post-election window of opportunity.

At the tail end of the trip, I was lucky to be able to pay a visit to the Irish peacekeepers at the UNIFIL mission. They do six month rotations with no R&R. Most of them look like they could do a job for Andy Farrell without too much notice and the gym plays an important role in de-stressing. Although the political situation as the Israeli border is quiet, this is the Middle East and everything can change very quickly.

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