In June 2020 COAR was commissioned to produce an in-depth scenario plan for Lebanon. The resulting report is for the purpose of strategic planning for both institutional donors and implementing organizations. It is an attempt to forecast the likely optimistic, neutral, and pessimistic scenarios facing Lebanon in the medium to long term (namely, the two-to-five-year period), with a specific focus on economic, political, social, security, and service provision dynamics. That the paper devotes the greatest share of its attention to an analysis of the pessimistic scenario is a concession to the stark reality in which Lebanon now finds itself. Notably, this assessment was finalized and presented in July 2020, before the August 4th blast in Beirut. However, while the August 4th blast was unprecedented, it does not necessarily mark a fundamental shift in the pessimistic (and most likely) scenario in this report. Indeed, in many ways the Beirut blast was only the most dramatic manifestation of the crisis currently facing Lebanon. Prior to the blast, Lebanon was already deep in the throes of one of the worst crises in its modern history, due to a combination of economic collapse, a new revolutionary protest movement, political gridlock, deep (and changing) social tensions, and growing humanitarian needs and service provision failures.
This scenario plan contends that the Lebanese state will likely be unable to address many of its most immediate challenges. As a result of political gridlock and inability to challenge entrenched patronage networks, Lebanon will likely face hyperinflation, drastically reduced public and private sector spending, widespread unemployment, severe import challenges, reduced state service provision, and food insecurity. This will, in turn, lead to a ‘hollow’ state increasingly incapable of providing basic governance on the local level. ‘Negative’ decentralization will become a dominant feature of Lebanon, as any of the practical dimensions of governance, economy, society, security, and service provision devolve to the local community level, likely dominated by local elites, political parties, militias, or local governance bodies. Wide discrepancies will arise between different parts of the country, and new political and economic actors will likely arise to challenge existing powers. While a return to widespread conflict remains unlikely, violence will become increasingly common, both between sects and political factions, and within them. Mass emigration is a near certainty, which will both undermine grassroots organizing and grant new political and economic power to the Lebanese diaspora. What is also likely is a marked increase in ‘diseases of despair’, as many Lebanese become newly destitute.
This paper provides a set of recommendations to donors and implementing actors. These recommendations primarily focus on the realities that donors and implementers must now confront as they navigate an extremely challenging landscape. Donors must work with local-level actors as the central state atrophies, while avoiding contributing to the weakening of the state and the fragmentation of Lebanon. Specific recommendations focus on potential strategic considerations and objectives, as well as considerations for potential entry points and programming priorities. Ultimately, a central recommendation is that donors and implementers develop close coordination and transparency mechanisms, red lines and due diligence criteria, and sectoral and geographic objectives — both between themselves, but also between different local actors, local governance bodies, and the Lebanese state itself.
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